Memorial Day and Unpaid Labor
“...they created for themselves, and for us, the Independence Day of the Second American Revolution.” Thus reads the statement of David W. Blight from his book RACE AND REUNION. His point is that 10,000 black people (Unpaid Laborers), white missionaries, and teachers started the Memorial Day tradition in 1866 in Charleston, South Carolina with a parade to honor United States of America (Union) soldiers who died there in a prison camp. Blight says “they were a procession of friends and mourners as South Carolina and the United States never saw before.” Many days to remember those who died in the Civil War would follow but this one was the first.
Memorial Day is coming on May 29, 2017 but what is it? Is it a day for remembering people who died while serving in the United States military? Does it have anything to do with the Civil War? Has its meaning changed over the years? Does it have anything to do with Unpaid Labor, Black soldiers, and the survival of the United States? The answer to these questions is yes.
The United States government in 1868 officially started Memorial Day after the Civil War. It was started to remember soldiers who died in that war. That was the war over whether or not slavery would be allowed to expand into new territories. That was the war in which over 700,000 soldiers died. It was not about ending legal slavery although that is what happened as a result of the war.
The Civil War is sometimes called the War Between the States. It was actually the war between two separated countries that used to be one country. It was between the United States of America and the Confederate States of America.
When Memorial Day was first started it was called Decoration Day. It was a day set aside to decorate the graves of the soldiers. It was only to remember soldiers who died in the military of the United States of America. Those who died in the military of the Confederate States of America were not included. They had their own Memorial Days. When the war ended the two countries became one again, but over 100 years would pass before the purpose of the holiday would be changed to include those who died in the militaries of both countries. That’s how deep the division was that the war caused between the North and the South.
So what does all that have to do with Unpaid Labor, Black soldiers, and the survival of the United States of America? The war was fought for 2 years before Black soldiers were put into the Union army to fight. Before that the U.S. was losing the war. Those 180,000 Black soldiers made the difference between winning and losing. If they had not helped the United States of America to win there would be no country, as we know it today. The United States of America would not have survived to become the most successful nation in modern history. That’s a part of the massive story of contribution of Unpaid Labor to our country. That’s a part of the reason to honor them.