Acts of Kindness
Early observances spread as an extension of President Abraham Lincoln’s kindly words, “with malice toward none.” Observances also spread in 1867 after a poem, “The Blue and the Gray” was published in newspapers, books and magazines. The poem was attached to the order that created Memorial Day, when it was published in May 1868.
Union veterans in Philadelphia wrote to a newspaper in 1869 about placing the first flowers of the season on war graves, to bury harsh feeling lingering from the Civil War. Gardner didn’t mention the story of a businessman in Waterloo, New York, who watched a widow decorate the grave of her soldier/husband in the spring of 1865, and vowed that the war dead be remembered. Parades, prayers and ceremonies were held in Waterloo in May 1866. The observance on the last Monday in May was first called Decoration Day.
A quick look showed Frederick Douglass was a speaker on Decoration Day several times. In, Beyond These Gates: Mountains of Hope in Rochester’s African-American History, by Marilyn S. Nolte and Verdis L. Robinson, there is selection from Douglass’ Decoration Day Speech of 1894, in Rochester, New York. He spoke of Mount Hope Cemetery as a place where “strong men go to meditate, and widows and orphans go to weep.”
President Lyndon Johnson signed a Presidential Proclamation recognizing Waterloo, New York, as the official Birthplace of Memorial Day in 1966. Wherever it started, thank you to all who shared these local acts of kindness.
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