Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Historian Wants People to Remember Memorial Day's Beginnings

It's a Southern thing.

A Purdue University historian says credit really belongs to thousands of Southern white women.

"If Confederate men would have organized memorials to honor their fallen soldiers in 1866, a year after the Civil War ended, it would have been considered treason against the United States," says Caroline Janney, an assistant professor of history. "Instead, women organized each event, and the men were figuratively hiding behind the skirts of these women. The memorial celebrations served as shields so that participants could simultaneously criticize the postwar government and praise their 'Lost Cause.' What many people don't realize is that these women, who are often portrayed as politically indifferent, were motivated by politics, too."

The women, through Ladies' Memorial Associations, organized dozens of memorials during the spring of 1866 and the years after. While Memorial Day is now a one-day celebration, historically these memorials were scheduled throughout the spring as a sign of renewal and rebirth, and each community chose its own symbolic date on which to gather. For example, some selected the May 10 anniversary of Gen. Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson's death while others settled on April 26, the day Gen. Joseph E. Johnston surrendered his troops in 1865.

Read the rest here.

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