Charleston can lay claim to 1st Memorial Day

As the nation prepares to mark Memorial Day, the city where the Civil War began can lay claim to holding the nation's first Memorial Day observance.

In 1865, an estimated 10,000 people - many of them black - held a parade and decorated the graves of Union dead in what is now Hampton Park in Charleston. Late in the war, the land was the site of an open-air Confederate prison camp.

Historian David Blight of Yale says the commemoration, called at the time Decoration Day, passed out of official memory when whites again assumed power after Reconstruction.

Several towns lay claim to the first Memorial Day and Waterloo, N.Y., generally gets the distinction.

But Blight says the Charleston commemoration was the year before the first in Waterloo.

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