Monday, May 30, 2011

Fun facts about Memorial Day

Subtitled: Why I Hate the South, Part 37

1. The first Memorial Day was a gathering of liberated slaves in South Carolina who thought it cruel that the locals had dumped a bunch of bodies of Union soldiers in an unmarked grave in Charleston. On May 1, 1865, they gathered near the mass grave, disinterred the bodies and gave them all, individually, a more proper burial. Literally THOUSANDS of people showed up for this, pretty much all of them black.

2. The organization of the Grand Army of the Republic, which had become a relief organization for distressed Union veterans, started "Decoration Day" celebrations on May 30, 1868--a day chosen because there was no major battle held on May 30.

3. As Reconstruction ended, Confederate states, not to be outdone, established their own versions of the holiday. Each state initially picked a different day, making a fine point of NOT picking May 30. Eventually, as the mythology of the Lost Cause spread, the Southern states settled on June 3, which JUST SO HAPPENS TO BE Jefferson Davis' birthday.

(Actually, they had a separate Memorial Day, too, but it was Jefferson Davis' birthday that was the state holiday, not Decoration Day. Should clearly illustrate the priorities of Southerners.)

4. A few Southern communities, such as Columbus, MS, mourned ALL the war dead, not just the Confederate soldiers, but this is notable only because it was rare.

5. World War I horrified everyone enough to stop making it about rehashing the Civil War, and eventually the entire nation standardized on May 30. The name gradually changed from "Decoration Day" to "Memorial Day", not officially becoming known as such until 1971, also the first year it was celebrated on the last Monday of May. This year, it just so happens to be May 30.

6. Lest you accuse me of politicizing Memorial Day, that's EXACTLY what people did in the early years of it, both in the North and South, and they kept doing it until, once again, World War I temporarily shocked them out of their idiocy.

7. So, today, take a few minutes to think of a soldier who died in agony on a lonely battlefield for someone else's pride. Because if you did that every day, you'd go mad with grief and rage.

h/t for this to Michael Moore, of all the fucking people