This is a long weekend for many of you, and I hope that you all are enjoying it! Take care because it is during these weekends that bring about travel and water related fatalities.
Earlier this week, Boston Boomer mentioned something in a comment about the origin of Memorial Day. So I thought this link from the New York Times was interesting… Many Claim to Be Memorial Day Birthplace
James Rajotte for The New York Times
Like the one over in Mississippi, this Columbus was founded in the 1820s and sits just a few minutes from countryside in almost any way you drive.
They say that in the other Columbus, too.
It does not take much for the historically curious in either town — like Richard Gardiner, a professor of teacher education at Columbus State University here — to explain why theirs is the true originator of a revered American holiday and why the other is well-meaning but simply misguided.
“I’m going to blame Memphis to some degree,” Professor Gardiner said, about which more later.
Oh boy, there is nothing like a good old-fashioned squabble about something that dates back to the Civil War.
The custom of strewing flowers on the graves of fallen soldiers has innumerable founders, going back perhaps beyond the horizon of recorded history, perhaps as far as war itself. But there is the ancient practice and there is Memorial Day, the specific holiday, arising from an order for the annual decoration of graves that was delivered in 1868 by Maj. Gen. John A. Logan, the commander in chief of the Grand Army of the Republic, a group made up of Union veterans of the Civil War.
According to the United States Department of Veterans Affairs, roughly two dozen places claim to be the primary source of the holiday, an assertion found on plaques, on Web sites and in the dogged avowals of local historians across the country.
Yet each town seems to have different criteria: whether its ceremony was in fact the earliest to honor Civil War dead, or the first one that General Logan heard about, or the first one that conceived of a national, recurring day.
The article mentions several of the towns that claim being the first, but it focuses on two specific towns.
the claims of the two Columbuses, eyeing each other across Alabama, are among the more nuanced and possibly the most intertwined.
Columbus, Miss., was a hospital town, and in many cases a burial site, for both Union and Confederate casualties of Shiloh, brought in by the trainload. And it was in that Columbus where, at the initiation of four women who met in a 12-gabled house on North Fourth Street, a solemn procession was made to Friendship Cemetery on April 25, 1866.
As the story goes, one of the women spontaneously suggested that they decorate the graves of the Union as well as the Confederate dead, as each grave contained someone’s father, brother or son. A lawyer in Ithaca, N.Y., named Francis Miles Finch read about this reconciliatory gesture and wrote a poem about the ceremony in Columbus, “The Blue and the Gray,” which The Atlantic Monthly published in 1867.
“My view is it’s really the poem that inspired the nation,” said Rufus Ward, a retired district attorney, sitting in his basement and sipping a mint julep (his grandmother’s recipe, he said, the one she shared with Eudora Welty).
The Georgians dispute little of this. But they argue that the procession in the other Columbus was actually inspired by the events in their Columbus.
And what about Georgia’s Columbus?
…Professor Gardiner points to a local woman named Mary Ann Williams, who in the spring of 1866 wrote an open letter suggesting “a day be set apart annually” and become a “custom of the country” to decorate the graves of fallen soldiers with flowers.
That day, described as a national day, was chosen to be April 26, the anniversary of Gen. Joseph E. Johnston’s surrender in North Carolina to Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman of the Union Army. The letter, or a summary of it, ran in newspapers all over the South, and as far west as St. Louis and as far north as New Hampshire, leading to widespread ceremonies on that day.
It also ran in the The Memphis Daily Avalanche on March 27, 1866. But the paper had the wrong date — April 25.
“This misprint right here is the difference between what you’ll hear in Columbus, Mississippi, and here,” Professor Gardiner said, concluding that the Memphis misprint traveled to the other Columbus. The Mississippi commemoration did take place a day earlier, he admitted, but they go too far in claiming they came up with it independently. “I just can’t — I don’t buy it.”
But this day set by Mary Ann Williams was only for the Confederate dead. And still to this day the south celebrates Confederate Day, our Banjoville courthouse is closed on that day.
However, according to Professor of History David W. Blight, Yale University…the event that brought about Memorial Day is…
…a mostly forgotten — or possibly suppressed — event in Charleston, S.C., in 1865 at a racetrack turned war prison. Black workmen properly reburied the Union dead that were found there, and on May 1, a cemetery dedication was held, attended by thousands of freed blacks who marched in procession around the track.
He has called that the first Memorial Day, as it predated most of the other contenders, though he said he has no evidence that it led to General Logan’s call for a national holiday.
“I’m much more interested in the meaning that’s being conveyed in that incredible ritual than who’s first,” he said.
I agree with Blight’s assessment too. The meaning of the day is what is most important.
So with that in mind, please take a moment today and remember all the soldiers who have died in the service of their country.
More news links after the jump.
Viviette Applewhite is set to be the face and voice of voter disenfranchisement. She’s a 93 year old grandmother who voted for JFK in her first election. Ms. Applewhite is suing Pennsylvania for its new restrictions on voters according to Think Progress.
She will be the plaintiff in the voter identification lawsuit being filed by the ACLU and the NAACP in the state, which claims that “the state’s voter photo ID law violates the Pennsylvania Constitution by depriving citizens of their most fundamental constitutional right – the right to vote.”
Applewhite no longer has a copy of her birth certificate, and she does not have a drivers’ license. Without either of these things, the new Pennsylvania restrictions say that she is ineligible to vote.
But her circumstances are not at all uncommon. African Americans, especially elderly African Americans, are disproportionately less likely to have a birth certificate.
According to the Brennan Center for Justice:
Twenty-five percent of African-American voting-age citizens have no current government-issued photo ID, compared to eight percent of white voting-age citizens.
Harsh voter ID laws, which former President Bill Clinton characterized as the most serious threat of disenfranchisement since Jim Crow laws, have been passed in Alabama, Georgia, Indiana, Kansas, Missouri, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Texas, and Wisconsin. Twenty four other states are trying to pass similar laws.