The city that plunged the nation into its bloodiest conflict can also lay a claim to holding the first Memorial Day observance honoring the dead from the Civil War.
In a little known event, as many as 10,000 people, many of them black, gathered May 1, 1865, to hold a parade, hear speeches and dedicate the graves of Union dead in what is now Hampton Park in Charleston.
A number of towns around the nation claim holding the first Memorial Day, although the distinction generally goes to the town of Waterloo, in upstate New York.
“What happened in Charleston does have the right to claim to be first, if that matters,” said David Blight, a history professor at Yale who has extensively researched the Charleston event.
“It involved several thousand freedmen. It had all sorts of official involvement by Union troops and it had the involvement of northern missionaries and teaches who had been teaching at freedmen schools for months,” said Blight, also director of the Gilder Lehrman Center for the Study of Slavery, Resistance and Abolition.