Black-Soldiers-Memorial-Day
Drew Richardson tires to looks through an American flag February 20, 2005 during a homecoming celebration for 150 soldiers from the Army's 3rd Infantry Division, 293rd Military Police at Fort Stewart, Georgia.
Photo by Stephen Morton/Getty Images

Understanding How African-Americans Created The Rich Traditions Of Memorial Day

Education doesn't stop in the classroom. Over the years, we've had to unlearn many of America's historical traits and discover just how much African American, Latinx, and Indigenous Peoples have done for the foundation of the country. Another aspect of America's fabric includes how freed black women, men and children created Memorial Day.

The story kicks off during the days of the Civil War in 1865 when Union and Confederate soldiers fought in Charleston, South Carolina. Just two years earlier, free and escaped slaves were allowed to enlist in the army with a reported 179,000 taking part. During the most savage parts of the Civil War, hundreds of members of the Union were left for dead at Washington Race Course with the track being converted into a prison camp. As many fled the state (including Confederate soldiers), former slaves remained.

Post and Courier columnist Brian Hicks wrote in 2009 that those who died at the racecourse were buried in mass graves but the former slaves (who called themselves “Patriotic Association of Colored Men”) dug up the bodies and created shallow graves for the soldiers in Hampton Park. The group reportedly created a 10-foot fence and dug 257 graves.

The effort took two weeks but the funeral proved to be a touching tribute as a documented 2,800 black school children sang songs like "John Brown's Body" and “The Star-Spangled Banner” with sermons delivered by black preachers on May 1, 1865.

David Blight, an American history professor at Yale University (Race and Reunion) and author Robert Rosen (Confederate Charleston) note that the event was known as “Martyrs of the Race Course” and appeared in the paper, Charleston Daily Courier, the next day.

“What’s interesting to me is how the memory of this got lost,” Blight said. “It is, in effect, the first Memorial Day and it was primarily led by former slaves in Charleston.”

It's been said that white people confused the ceremony for a celebration for the Emancipation Proclamation of 1863 (insert eye roll) and a year later, Waterloo, New York celebrated the so-called first Decoration Day, mimicking the same traditions done in Charleston.

In April 1866, Confederate Memorial Day took place with both holidays doing the same traditions. The Grand Army of the Republic (GAR), an organization for Union veterans, declared May 5, 1868, Decoration Day but Union Maj. Gen. John A. Logan decided Decoration Day should take place later in the month (May 30). Eventually, the holidays merged and became Memorial Day to be celebrated on last Monday of May.

The complicated role of black people in American wars continued as Chuck Hobbs of the Hobbservation Point noted in the 2017 article, Remembering when Black soldiers were lynched en masse by the Army during World War I. Hobbs shared how General John J. Pershing, commander of the American Expeditionary Forces, enforced a divide between black and white soldiers, stating, “we must not eat with them, must not shake hands with them, seek to talk to them or to meet with them outside the requirements of military service. We must not commend too highly these troops, especially in front of White Americans.” Black soldiers were lynched for petty violations and at times, due to sheer racism.

At times it's hard to enjoy a holiday that hasn't honored all of us, but historians continue to uncover unsung heroes nearly every day. Films like Glory have highlighted black soldiers and reenactments of their efforts continue around the country.

Read more about Memorial Day's history here and feel free to revisit The Root's breakdown of the holiday below.

From the Web

More on Vibe

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - JANUARY 26: Images for the late Nipsey Hussle and Kobe Bryant are projected onto a screen while YG, John Legend, Kirk Franklin, DJ Khaled, Meek Mill, and Roddy Ricch perform onstage during the 62nd Annual GRAMMY Awards at STAPLES Center on January 26, 2020 in Los Angeles, California.
Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images for The Recording Academy

Meek Mill, Roddy Ricch, John Legend, YG, Kirk Franklin, DJ Khaled Honor Nipsey Hussle At 2020 Grammys

Hours after Nipsey Hussle was posthumously awarded with his first Grammy, the awards ceremony honored him with a heartfelt performance by an all-star roster of John Legend, DJ Khaled, Meek Mill, Roddy Rich, Kirk Franklin and YG.

Meek Mill began the performance with an emotive, unreleased verse that served as a letter to Nipsey, with Roddy Ricch singing a bridge into a rousing performance of "Higher," the song that appeared on DJ Khaled's album Father of Asahd.  John Legend played the piano and sang the chorus while backed by a choir, which was directed by an energetic, adlibbing Kirk Franklin, as a video of Nipsey rapping played on a big screen. YG joined the stage in a red suit, speaking to the gang unity between Crips and Bloods that Nipsey endorsed with his music and his life. The performance ended with an image of Los Angeles legends Nipsey Hussle and and the recently deceased Kobe Bryant, with Khaled paying tribute to them both.

Nipsey Hussle's debut studio album, Victory Lap (2018) came after an epic mixtape  earned him a nomination for Best Rap Album at the 61st Annual Grammy Awards. He died on March 31, 2019, after being gunned down on in the parking lot of his Marathon Clothing store in Los Angeles. The music and business worlds reeled from his loss, with his rap career on the upswing and his work as a businessman and community leader inspiring many.

Before Sunday's (Jan. 26) ceremony, Nipsey Hussle was awarded a Grammy Award for Best Rap Performance for "Racks In The Middle," the last single that he released in his lifetime. The song features a guest appearance by Roddy Ricch, and is produced by Hit-Boy.

Continue Reading
US singer-songwriter Steven Tyler (L) and guitarist Joe Perry (R) of Aerosmith and Darryl McDaniels of Run DMC perform during the 62nd Annual Grammy Awards on January 26, 2020, in Los Angeles.
ROBYN BECK/AFP

Run-DMC Joins Aerosmith To Perform "Walk This Way" At Grammys 2020

With the accomplished rock band Aerosmith earning kudos from The Recording Academy this month at the MusiCares Person of the Year Gala, it's only right that they called on Run-DMC to perform one of the biggest songs of both their respective careers.

After an introduction by Common, Aerosmith began their performance with “Living On The Edge.” Afterward, Run-DMC kicked through a stage wall, and both groups teamed up to perform "Walk This Way," their 1986 hit that helped push rap into the mainstream and peaked at no. 4 on the Billboard Hot 100. Jam Master Jay's son manned the turntables in the absence of his late father.

Watch the performance below.

Continue Reading
Lil Nas X performs onstage during the 62nd Annual GRAMMY Awards at STAPLES Center on January 26, 2020 in Los Angeles, California
Kevin Winter/Getty Images for The Recording Academy

Lil Nas X Performs "Old Town Road" Super Remix And "Rodeo" Feat. Nas

Every time Lil Nas X takes the stage, he doesn't disappoint with his live presence and art direction. That was the case for his performance at the Grammys on Sunday (Jan. 26) where he commanded the stage with new additions to his hit track “Old Town Road.” With a fresh verse performed by the man of the hour, Lil Nas X also contracted the guest services of BTS while Diplo to Mason Ramsey to Billy Ray Cyrus’ had their musical input.

The rising star also paid homage to Kobe Bryant by featuring his No. 24 Los Angeles Lakers jersey. As the performance progressed, X switched melodies to perform "Rodeo" with surprise guest Nas.

The 20-year-old is nominated for Best Rap Sung/Performance (“Panini”), Best New Artist, and Album of the Year (7).

Watch the performance below.

Continue Reading

Top Stories