Saturday, October 09, 2021

"Grateful Homage: A Day for Rememberin' by Leah Henderson

Memorial Day, originally called Decoration Day, was established to honor those who gave their lives fighting in the Civil War. This is the story of the first Memorial Day celebration.

Nine days. Papa up early and gone again. He said important work has to be done--man's work.

Young Eli goes where his papa says he needs to go--to school, learning to count and read. They aren't enslaved anymore, but he knows something important is happening. The men are rebuilding the Old Race Track Building, and finally, on day ten he gets to march off with them, helping to whitewash the fence and columns and get ready for the celebration on the next day.

Dressed in his best, he and the other children carry flags and bundles of flower petals, crosses, and wreaths, singing about "John Brown's Body," singing for the buried Union soldiers who died there fighting for their freedom.

Thousands of hands sprinkle thousands of spring blossoms. The graves become a bed of petals and roses. The flag snaps in the breeze.

Pastors preach sacrifice, abolitionists proclaim freedom. We will never forget those Union soldiers... what they've given of themselves for the priceless gift of our liberty.

Once known as Decoration Day, today Memorial Day is a holiday observed nationwide on May 30, but in Charleston, South Carolina, in 1865, the memorial service for the dead of the Civil War was held by ten thousand newly freed slaves and abolitionists at the Washington Race Track on May 1, 1865, the very first of many days of remembrance across the country.

In Leah Anderson's beautiful commemoration of the first memorial day observation of the Civil War, A Day for Rememberin': Inspired by the True Events of the First Memorial Day (Abrams Books, 2021), is told through the eyes of a young newly emancipated boy who is already learning to read and work with numbers, helping to begin the tradition that became a national holiday as the he meaning of this observation was eventually widened to include victims of all American wars.

Henderson's account is respectful, engaging, and moving, and the Coretta Scott King Award-winning artist Floyd Cooper's monumentalist artistic realism brings the story touchingly to life. With an author's note and historical account of the holiday, The Roots of Decoration Day, Charleston, 1865, a timeline, a list of other cities with claims to the first memorial day celebrations, selected bibliography of books, newspapers, and period journals, as well as videos by PBS and the Hisory Channel, this book is a solid resource for young scholars fascinated by the Civil War.

"An enchanting account of the first Memorial Day, this book is recommended for all," writes School Library Journal.

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