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Selective: Memorial Day Place of Origin

Tracy Davenport Tracy Davenport
31st May 2021
Selective: Memorial Day Place of Origin
Many cities claim to be the birthplace of Memorial Day (Getty Images).

The Claim

Waterloo, New York is the official birthplace of Memorial Day.

Emerging story

Some are sharing the history of Memorial Day as beginning in Waterloo, New York. But is that true? 

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Misbar’s Analysis

Misbar has discovered that one of the earliest Memorial Day gatherings was held by freed African Americans in Charleston, South Carolina, according to History.com. In the late stages of the Civil War, the Confederate army had transformed a race track and country club into a makeshift prison for Union captives. Many within the prison died due to disease and exposure. When Charleston fell and Confederate troops evacuated, one of the first things the freed slaves did was to give the fallen Union prisoners a proper burial. Then, on May 1, 1865, a crowd of 10,000 people, mostly freed slaves with some white missionaries, staged a parade around the race track. School children sang and ministers recited bible verses. According to History.com, if the news reports are accurate, the 1865 gathering at the Charleston race track would be the earliest Memorial Day commemoration on record.

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Nevertheless, on March 7, 1966, New York State Governor Nelson Rockefeller proclaimed the Seneca County village of Waterloo as the "birthplace of Memorial Day." The proclamation said that Waterloo was the place for the "first, formal, complete, well-planned, village-wide observance of a day entirely dedicated to honoring the war dead," according to NewYorkUpstate.com. The U.S. Congress agreed and both House and Senate passed House Concurrent Resolution 587 on May 19, 1966. President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the designation according to the National Park Service.

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Many have claimed to be the originators of Memorial Day. According to the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs (VA), cities in the North and the South claim to be the birthplace of Memorial Day. In addition to Charleston, South Carolina, both Macon and Columbus, Georgia and Richmond, Virginia claim the title. The village of Boalsburg, Pennsylvania claims it began there two years earlier. According to the VA, about 25 places have been named as the originators of Memorial Day. 

Today, the holiday that was sometimes called “Decoration Day” is now celebrated in the U.S. on the last Monday in May all around the country. While there is uncertainty about the original birthplace of the traditions associated with the holiday, it is still a day to commemorate the men and women who died while in the military, serving their country. 

Misbar’s Classification


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