Blessed to have community that honors veterans

Published 7:09 pm Tuesday, June 1, 2021

What a blessing it is to see a community that so strongly supports those who have fought and died for our freedoms.

Not only did hundreds of people of the Miss-Lou celebrate Memorial Day, but they did so by waking up on a holiday weekend to walk four miles, crossing the Mississippi River bridge, then pausing to reflect at a memorial service at the Natchez National Cemetery.

Furthermore, this community has celebrated the same way for 155 years. The Miss-Lou Memorial Day Parade is one of the longest running traditions of its kind, dating back to 1867 when participants celebrated Memorial Day by crossing the Mississippi River by ferryboat then marched up Silver Street to the Natchez National Cemetery. After the bridge was built in the 1940s, residents began marching across the bridge to the cemetery.

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The group of marchers typically grows as it passes through Vidalia and Natchez as people observing on the side of the streets tend to jump in the line. 

Historian Darrell S. White said the roots of the tradition are much older, dating back to the Civil War. On July 4, 1863, the City of Vicksburg surrendered to the Union and the Union soon began its occupation of the City of Natchez, White said. There were approximately 5,000 Union soldiers assigned to Natchez, 3,000 of which were regiments of the United States Colored Troops. The Grand Army of the Republic (GAR) was founded in 1866, comprised of Union Army, Navel and Marine veterans of the Civil War.

White said May 30, then called “Decoration Day,” was the true Independence Day for the people of color. The GAR would decorate the burial ground of their comrades. It became the day that the formerly enslaved would acknowledge those who had fought and died for their freedom.

Over the years, Decoration Day has evolved into what is now Memorial Day, when all fallen veterans are honored, and the commemorative marches to the Natchez National Cemetery have endured.

We’d like to thank everyone who celebrated this Memorial Day — who paused from the barbecues and spirits to thank the fallen heroes of our country. They are the reason we celebrate because they are the reason we have the freedoms we have.