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America's first Memorial Day celebration; Charleston, SC race course or Waterloo, NY?

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Posted at 9:34 AM, May 30, 2021
and last updated 2021-05-30 09:34:33-04

WXYZ DETROIT — American history is riddled with interesting facts. The earliest Memorial Day celebration is one of them. Waterloo, New York is officially credited with starting our nation's most solemn holiday on May 5, 1866. But in 1966, one hundred years later, Yale University and Pulitzer Prize-winner historian David W. Blight stumbled across a then little known narrative inside boxes of Union veteran archives at Harvard University's Houghton Library.

On May 1, 1865, less than a month after the Confederacy surrendered, a crowd of about 10,000, mostly freed slaves, staged a parade around a Charleston, SC race track to honor Union soldier prisoners who had fallen in the brutal Civil War. In a recent interview with Dr. Marc Kruman, the Distinguished Service Professor of History at Wayne State University, also educated at Yale University, he recalled the story that reportedly happened in the city where the Civil War began.

Special services at Arlington National Cemetery on May 30, 1868, marked the official beginning of Decoration Day, the forerunner to Memorial Day. And, in 1971, Memorial Day became a Federal holiday which is observed every year on the 4th Monday of May.

You can see more of my interview with Dr. Kruman on this Sunday's Spotlight on the News broadcast.