There are many stories as to its actual beginnings, with over two dozen cities and towns laying claim to being the birthplace of Memorial Day. I’d like to think that our neighboring Columbus, MS. played a significant role. According to local historians it is here that Memorial Day got its start when the young women of the town decorated the graves of fallen soldiers on both sides of the Civil War.
Originally known as “decoration day”, there is also evidence that organized women’s groups in the South were decorating graves before the end of the Civil War. A hymn published in 1867, “Kneel Where Our Loves are Sleeping” by Nella L. Sweet carried the dedication “To The Ladies of the South who are Decorating the Graves of the Confederate Dead.
While Waterloo N.Y. was officially declared the birthplace of Memorial Day by President Lyndon Johnson in May 1966, it’s difficult to prove conclusively the origins of the day. It is more likely that it had many separate beginnings; each of those towns and every planned or spontaneous gathering of people to honor the war dead in the 1860’s helped plant the seeds of a nationally observed Memorial Day.
Several Southern States, including Mississippi, continue to celebrate a Confederate Memorial Day. But today, people across the nation will be grilling out and declaring the unofficial beginning of summer. I just hope we never forget the sacrifice made by hundreds of thousands of soldiers who lost their lives in the name of freedom.