Memorial Day: Paying tribute to fallen soldiers & former slaves—plus recipes, songs

Sailors beneath large American flag

Sailors open an American flag. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

MONDAY, MAY 29: Across the U.S., remembrances are observed and grills fire up for Memorial Day, which began in May 1865 in Charleston, South Carolina.

BUT FIRST, HOLIDAY TRAVEL NEWS!  AAA estimates that more people will get away this Memorial Day weekend than have in the past 12 years, with 39.3 million U.S. travelers expected, according to a forecast released Wednesday. That represents an increase of 1 million—2.7 percent—more travelers this year than last Memorial Day weekend. Most of the travelers—88.1 percent, or 34.6 million—will drive to their destinations. Also, look for historic deals: Look around your region at history-themed parks and museums. Some will be opening for the summer season around this three-day weekend. Some have special Memorial weekend deals for visitors, including special offers for veterans. And, observe the National Moment of Remembrance. The official national Moment of Remembrance, established by federal action, is actually a rolling minute of silence, set for 3 p.m. in your respective time zone.

PBS MEMORIAL DAY CONCERT

Boy flag concert

A boy at the Memorial Day Concert. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Don’t miss this! It’s on the evening before Memorial Day—Sunday, May 28—carried via the PBS network nationwide from Washington D.C.

According to PBS’s pre-broadcast plan for the live event: The 2017 concert will feature tributes to the last surviving Doolittle Raider, Colonel Richard Cole, and the 75th anniversary of that daring bombing mission over Tokyo, as well as the 70th anniversary of the United States Air Force and some of the most skilled aviators of World War II – the Tuskegee Airmen. In addition, the concert will honor the legacy of Jerry Colbert, Founder and Executive Producer of Capital Concerts, who passed away in January 2017.

Emmy and Tony Award-winner Laurence Fishburne is stepping in to co-host the 28th annual edition of the National Memorial Day Concert with Tony Award-winner Joe Mantegna. Sinise will present a 75th anniversary salute to the Doolittle Raiders, the daring aviators who changed the course of World War II in the Pacific. The all-star lineup for the event includes: General Colin L. Powell, USA (Ret.); Renée Fleming; Vanessa Williams; Scotty McCreery; John Ondrasik of Five for Fighting; John Ortiz; Mary McCormack and many more. Auli’i Cravalho will open the show with a special performance of the national anthem.

THE FIRST MEMORIAL DAY (AKA DECORATION DAY):
PROPERLY CREDITING COURAGEOUS FORMER SLAVES

All American history books haven’t been revised—and some websites produced by various agencies of the federal government still have the “old” versions of the “first” Memorial or Decoration Day. One U.S. veterans website still credits Waterloo, New York, as well as some Confederate women’s groups in 1866 as the “firsts.” So, ReadTheSpirit celebrates the growing awareness of the role of courageous former slaves in 1865. Now, Wikipedia, the PBS network itself and a growing number of history textbooks credit the courageous former slaves in 1865 with the “first.”

As of Memorial Day 2013, Wikipedia now reports:

The first well-known observance of a Memorial Day-type observance after the Civil War was in Charleston, South Carolina, on May 1, 1865. During the war, Union soldiers who were prisoners of war had been held at the Charleston Race Course; at least 257 Union prisoners died there and were hastily buried in unmarked graves. … Blacks in Charleston organized a May Day ceremony in 1865, which was covered by the New York Tribune and other national papers. The freedmen had cleaned up and landscaped the burial ground, building an enclosure and an arch labeled, “Martyrs of the Race Course.” Nearly 10,000 people, mostly freedmen, gathered on May 1 to commemorate the dead. Involved were 3,000 schoolchildren newly enrolled in freedmen’s schools, mutual aid societies, Union troops, and black ministers and white northern missionaries. Most brought flowers to lay on the burial field. Today the site is used as Hampton Park. Years later, the celebration would come to be called the “First Decoration Day” in the North.

ReadTheSpirit online magazine has been covering this progressive correction of our American historical record for a number of years. For more on David Blight’s work and the Charleston event in 1865—including the text of a contemporary newspaper story—see this earlier Memorial Day story we published.

HOLIDAY RECIPES & GREAT OLD SONGS!

RECIPES: Find an array of recipes fit for a picnic, a barbecue or a more elaborate meal from Food Network, Taste of Home, Food & Wine, AllRecipes and Kraft.

GREAT OLD SONGS: The Libary of Congress has one of the best online indexes for Memorial-themed reflection—featuring links to patriotic American songs. The Library of Congress index provides stories about the origin of these classics, plus many of these links lead to high-resolution images of early sheet music you can print. The list of nearly 30 venerable tunes includes: America the Beautiful, Anchors Aweigh, Columbia the Gem of the Ocean, Fanfare for the Common Man, Marines’ Hymn, This Land is Your Land and You’re a Grand Old Flag.

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