Walter Hoye

Memorial Day Issue: “Martyrs of the Race Course”

In Abortion, Personhood, Special Edition on June 3, 2013 at 12:01 am
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Memorial Day Issue

“Martyrs of the Race Course”

On May 2nd, 1865 The Charleston Daily Courier Published This Report …

This was the first Memorial Day [Monday, May 1st, 1865]. African Americans invented Memorial Day in Charleston, South Carolina. What you have there is Black Americans recently freed from slavery announcing to the world with their flowers, their feet, and their songs what the war had been about. What they basically were creating was the Independence Day of a Second American Revolution.” 1 —  David W. Blight [See Notes]

Charleston Daily News

In April 1865, when the outcome of the War between the States was crossing over from fate to fact, Union troops entered the city of Charleston, South Carolina, where four (4) years before the war had begun. While the White residents sympathetic to the antebellum lifestyle of the South had abandoned the city of Charleston, the Black residents of Charleston remained to honor, celebrate and welcome the troops from the North, which by the way included the 21st United States Colored Infantry Regiment that arrived first and accepted the surrender of the city of Charleston.2 As time would later tell, the celebration of newly former slaves on Monday, May 1st, 1865, the first “Decoration Day,” would later become our Memorial Day.

Remembering The Sacrifice

“Our Presidents, Governors, Generals and Secretaries are calling, with almost frantic vehemence, for men. “MEN! MEN! SEND US MEN!” they scream, or the cause of the Union is gone … and yet these very officers, representing the people and the Government, steadily, and persistently refuse to receive the very class of men which have a deeper interest in the defeat and humiliation of the rebels than all others.” 3 — Frederick Douglass

William H. CarneyOn May 22nd, 1863, the United States War Department issued General Order Number 143 which established a “Bureau of Colored Troops” to recruit Black American Civil War soldiers to fight for the Union Army. Black American Civil War soldiers fought in the infantry, cavalry, light and heavy artillery units and served as engineers for the Union Army.4 Sergeant Major Christian Fleetwood5 and Sergeant William Harvey Carney 6 were both Medal of Honor [See Notes] recipients. Sergeant Carney served with the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry. On Saturday, July 18th, 1863, Sergeant Carney fought in the Second Battle of Fort Wagner in Charleston, South Carolina, where one (1) year, nine (9) months and fourteen (14) days later the first Memorial Day celebration would take place.7 Despite being wounded several times, Sergeant Carney fought his way across the Confederate line and made his way back to the Union line in a one-man, life or death campaign to recover and return the unit’s United States Flag.8

William H. Carney Wearing Medal Of HonorRank and Organization: [Click Here]
“William Harvey Carney, Sergeant, Company C, 54th Massachusetts Colored Infantry. Place and date: At Fort Wagner, [ Charleston, South Carolina ], July 18, 1863. Entered service at: New Bedford, Mass. Birth: Norfolk, Va. Date of issue: May 23, 1900.” 9

Medal Of Honor Citation: [Click Here]
“When the color[ed] sergeant was shot down, this soldier grasped the flag, led the way to the parapet, and planted the colors thereon. When the troops fell back he brought off the flag, under a fierce fire in which he was twice severely wounded.” 10

After returning the flag to another survivor of the 54th Massachusetts Colored Infantry, Sergeant Carney said: “Boys, I only did my duty; the old flag never touched the ground!” 11

A Critical Reflection

“The concept that the population must ‘remember the sacrifice‘ of U.S. service members, without a critical reflection on the wars themselves, did not emerge by accident. It came about in the Jim Crow period as the Northern and Southern ruling classes sought to reunite the country around a political mourning, which required erasing the ‘divisive‘ issues of slavery and Black citizenship. These issues had been at the heart of the struggles of the Civil War and Reconstruction.” 12 — Ben Becker

ImplicationsOn the calendar we understand Memorial Day to be a federal holiday which occurs every year on the final Monday of May where we remember the men and women who gave their lives in military service to our country with picnics, road races, commencements, and baseball double-headers. What many do not know is that Memorial Day is the former Decoration Day. The first Decoration Day13 was originated after the American Civil War to commemorate the Union and Confederate soldiers who died in the Civil War by former Charleston, South Carolina slaves. In an effort to honor and remember the sacrifices of colored Civil War soldiers, ImplicationsBlack Americans conducted a series of commemorations to publicly share what the end of the Civil War meant to communities of color. However, if little is known about the origin of Memorial Day then even less is known about the origin of Decoration Day and its impact on American politics today. With the reality of freedmen and freedwomen boldly refusing to forget where they came from in the public square, it became expedient for the Northern and Southern power brokers to dropdivisivesocial issues such as Radical Reconstruction, Black American citizenship and consequently their constitutional equality (i.e., legally protected “personhood”) enshrined in the Fourteenth Amendment [See Notes] in order to restore both financially and politically profitable relationships.14 By Monday, March 5th, 1877 the “Compromise of 1877” or as Black Americans call it “The Great Betrayal!15,16 was a reality and the White and wealthy supremacists had found a way to erase the past and in the process a principal piece of Black History perished.17

Celebrating Memorial Day

What Does It Really Mean Today?

“While historians have gone a long way to expose the white supremacist history of the Civil War and uncover its revolutionary content, the spirit of the first Decoration Day — the struggle for Black liberation and the fight against racism — has unfortunately been whitewashed from the modern Memorial Day” [celebrations].18 — Ben Becker

The Civil War and America's First Memorial Day

Decoration Day!Celebrating Memorial Day, in its original spirit, means addressingdivisivesocial issues not dropping them. It means remembering those who died fighting for freedom and equality among the most vulnerable in the past, by rededicating ourselves to do the same for the most vulnerable among us in the present. It means realizing the term person in the Fourteenth Amendment affords everyone (from the moment of their biological beginning as a human being created in the image of God, to the senior citizen facing end of life decisions, to the disabled war veteran), constitutional equality where all are protected by love and by law as citizens of the United States of America. It means reviving in the public square the old landmarks of faith, family and freedom that both anchored and animated the first Decoration Day since the 1860s. It means honoring those who fought for truth and justice in their day by exposing error and injustice in our day. It means reclaiming biblically defined righteousness in the midst of enemy territory like the former Charleston slaves did by memorializing Union soldiers in the midst of the very cradle of the Southern Confederacy. It means revisiting the painful power of our past to release, reset and recalibrate our moored, maligned and muzzled moral compasses in the present. It means retaking what the enemy has stolen by refusing to surrender to polls, politics and past performance in order to pursue principles. It means we recommit ourselves to the truths we hold to “be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”19 It means recognizing the reality of humanity’s fallen spiritual condition and regarding the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob as mankind’s only hope for redemption. It means running the same race the “Martyrs of the Race Course” ran by fighting the good fight and finishing the course set before us by faith.20

Brothers, we need to talk.


· David W. Blight is Class of 1954 Professor of American History at Yale University and Director of the Gilder-Lehrman Center for the Study of Slavery, Resistance and Abolition. Blight was the Class of 1959 Professor of History at Amherst College, where he taught for 13 years. He has won major historical awards, including the Bancroft Prize and the Frederick Douglass Prize. 

· The Medal of Honor is the highest military decoration awarded by the United States government. On Wednesday, May 23rd, 1900, Sergeant William Harvey Carney would be awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor. As a soldier in the United States Colored Troops, Carney was the first Black American to perform an action (1863) for which a Medal of Honor was awarded. See “List of African-American Medal of Honor Recipients“, Wikipedia ( 

· On Thursday, July 9th, 1868, the Fourteenth Amendment (Amendment XIV) of the United States Constitution (one of the Reconstruction Amendments) was adopted. Section 1 states: “All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.” When interpreting the the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution and consequently the constitution itself, the key word here is person(s). See “Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution”, Wikipedia (


01. David W. Blight, Lecture: “To Appomattox and Beyond,” (
02. David W. Blight, Video: “The First Decoration Day” || By: David W. Blight, Yale University (
03. Frederick Douglass, Douglass Monthly V (August 1863) p. 852 (
04. “Military history of African Americans in the American Civil War“, Wikipedia ( and “United States Colored Troops“, Wikipedia (
05. “Christian Fleetwood“, Wikipedia (
06. “William Harvey Carney“, Medal of Honor Recipients, Civil War, U.S. Army Center of Military (
07. “Second Battle of Fort Wagner“, Wikipedia (
08. “William Harvey Carney“, Wikipedia (
09. Ibid.
10. Ibid.
11. “Boys the Old Flag Never Touched the Ground“, Wikipedia (
12. Ben Becker, “The revolutionary origins of Memorial Day and its political hijacking: A day celebrating Black liberation utilized for white supremacy”, Editor for the Newspaper of the Party for Socialism and Liberation (
13. David W. Blight, “The First Decoration Day” ( and Video: “The First Decoration Day” || By: David W. Blight, Yale University (
14. David W. Blight, “Race and Reunion: The Civil War in American Memory” ( Quote: “With time, in the North, the war’s two great results — Black freedom and the preservation of the Union — were rarely accorded equal space. In the South, a uniquely Confederate version of the war’s meaning, rooted in resistance to Reconstruction, coalesced around Memorial Day practice.” (“Race and Reunion,” p. 65).
15. “American President: Key Events in the Presidency of Rutherford B. Hayes” (
16. Walter B. Hoye II, “The Compromise of 1877: The Republican Party Preferred Power!” (
17. op.cit., Ben Becker (
18. Ibid.
19. “United States Declaration of Independence“, Wikipedia (
20. 2nd Timothy 4:7, King James Bible “Authorized Version”, Cambridge Edition (


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