Most official histories of Memorial Day credit its founding to a white former Union Army Major General John A. Logan. However, it’s not the full story. It turns out that Logan was reputedly inspired by a local tribute to the fallen dead and to the gift of freedom organized by the formerly enslaved black community of Charleston, South Carolina, in May 1865. In the West African tradition from which Charleston’s Gullah people came, honorable warriors deserved sacred burial, and the dead were seen as part of a cycle of souls entering and leaving the world.
Before I switched my field of study to international studies/relations, I took pride as a history major. Really being able to learn about different events, the history of different people, how they’re informed by their past, studying that past – no matter how all-encompassing and interdisciplinary it is, and create living history in the form of oral histories or writing a different take on something. That was what, and still does, excite me about history.
The fact that it’s so essential to everything that we do, in an intrinsic sort of way, yet to many people seemed so useless, was a challenge in and of itself.
Here’s something that I found about the history of Memorial Day… It’s an illuminating post-colonial take on the history behind General Logan’s idea.