We’ve been celebrating Main Streets Across America around here lately, and we’re reminded as Memorial Day approaches how these places are so tightly woven into our national and community identities.
Main Streets across America, after all, have for many years been essentially the home of Memorial Day. This is where we gather for the parades and speeches and observations.
But we also learned that these American gathering places are where Memorial Day itself originated. In fact, one of our Main Streets Across America communities itself lays claim to be the birthplace of Memorial Day.
The town is Columbus, Mississippi. It’s home to Friendship Cemetery, where women decorating the graves of Confederate soldiers in 1866 also decided that the final resting places of Union soldiers needed to be memorialized.
The Civil War was still a painful scar at that time, especially in the South. So this simple act of reconciliation was a powerful statement of community and honor.
From that early “decoration day” the idea of Memorial Day was born.
It’s hardly surprising that a community that we think of as having Main Street values would originate such a solemn and noble commemoration. To our minds, this is what Main Street values are all about. And it’s what we strive to honor and live every day. The ideals embedded in small town America are part of the cause we want to serve.
Now we would be remiss if we didn’t admit something here. Columbus, Mississippi, isn’t the only place in America that considers itself the home of Memorial Day. A number of other towns began similar traditions in the years immediately after the Civil War.
The tradition is just about as American as it can be.
What we like about the Mississippi story is what else the event inspired. A lawyer from Ithaca, N.Y., wrote a poem, “The Blue and the Grey,” about the Columbus events that the Atlantic Monthly published in 1867.
It’s a lovely poem. So appropriate for this most American of holidays.