A tradition continues in the Miss-LouPublished 12:05am Thursday, May 23, 2013
In the aftermath of the U.S. Civil War in 1865, as our nation began to heal from its devastation, Union veterans of the conflict began to join together once again for support, camaraderie and remembrance of fallen comrades. In 1866 the Grand Army of the Republic was established to unify these small groups nationwide.
In the year 1868 Grand Army General John A. Logan issued General Order #11 to the membership of the organization. He directed the survivors of the war to cherish the memories of their fallen comrades, and to “Gather around their sacred remains and garland the passionless mounds above them choicest flowers of springtime: let us raise above them the dear old flag they saved from dishonor.” With this our nation’s tradition of Decoration Day was born.
Many Southern states would not officially recognize Decoration Day as it had been established to honor those who had served the Union during the Civil War. As there were thousands more blacks then whites buried in the Natchez National Cemetery at its inception there would originally have been minimal support or participation by members of the local white community in this commerative celebration at that time. The revised Mississippi Constitution of 1890 forbade the burial of both blacks & whites in the same cemetery; this law has since been changed.
Historically for many within the African American community, Decoration Day had special significance. Having been denied the rights of freedom and citizenship for over 100 years in this nation prior to 1868, the African American community celebrated the sacrifices and lives of those who fought and died for their freedom. This would become their Independence Day, truly a day of celebration.
Local chapters of the G.A.R. began to organize solemn marches to the Natchez National Cemetery to place flags and flowers upon the graves of the fallen. Our local African American community has carried out this tradition since the 1868, as freedom and independence did not come to those who were enslaved on July 4th, 1776.
Each year since then patriotic citizens of the Miss-Lou have assembled at what was the local Headquarters of the Grand Army of the Republic in Vidalia, to cross the river where they were joined by others for a march to the Natchez National Cemetery to honor the fallen soldiers, sailors and marines who have served our nation and our flag. After World War I, all who had served and died in our nations military would be so honored by tribute and remembrance, and Decoration Day would become Memorial Day.
On Monday May 27th marchers will assemble once again at 8:30 a.m. to cross the river on the way to the Natchez National Cemetery for a remembrance program scheduled to begin at 11:30 a.m. You are invited to join in the procession on either side of the river in honor of those who had defended freedom. So get in line, line the parade route along Canal Street or attend the program at the Natchez National Cemetery.
Darrell S. White is the director of the Office of Cultural Heritage Tourism