BEING A DAY OF REMEMBRANCE
n. — originally May 30, now the last Monday in May, a public holiday to commemorate those who died on active service
fm. Classical Latin, memorialis, relating to memory
first published. 1836
Indeed, while lively debate continues over who in the U.S. held the first Memorial Day-type service—freed slaves in Charleston, South Carolina; Civil War veterans in Waterloo, New York; or any number of celebrations already advancing the glamorized memory of the Confederate dead across the South—it was Union General John A. Logan of Illinois who formalized the event. As commander-in-chief of the Grand Army of the Republic, he issued a proclamation May 5, 1868, to celebrate a Decoration Day that year in honor of the North’s Civil War dead. May 30 was chosen. Prime flower-blooming season.
Many Southern states did not recognize the holiday, instead celebrating a restyled Confederate Memorial Day on the state level anytime between January and June. The name Memorial Day wasn’t legally adopted by Congress until 1967, while Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, and Texas all observe both the federal and Confederate Memorial Days as state holidays—though Georgia just last year dropped the name Confederate Memorial Day and instead listed their April 26 holiday as, simply, state holiday.
inspiration. yes, the day itself, but also the news of the day. The ongoing memorializing of the Confederacy across the South is no small matter for politicians and citizens, as many cherish if not revere the image and iconography of the Confederacy. New Orleans mayor Mitch Landrieu decried that position just last week, in a speech of incredible eloquence and erudition on the removal of a Robert E. Lee statue in the city:
It is self-evident that these men did not fight for the United States of America. They fought against it. They may have been warriors, but in this cause they were not patriots.
These statues are not just stone and metal. They are not just innocent remembrances of a benign history. These monuments purposefully celebrate a fictional, sanitized Confederacy; ignoring the death, ignoring the enslavement, and the terror that it actually stood for.
After the Civil War, these statues were a part of that terrorism as much as a burning cross on someone’s lawn; they were erected purposefully to send a strong message to all who walked in their shadows about who was still in charge in this city.