Memorial Day in Atlanta

Memorial Day has become one of the most popular three day weekends in modern day Atlanta. Coming in the waning weeks of spring, it is a time of major local festivals as well as events honoring the service of American military veterans. One hundred years ago, however, it was a holiday largely ignored by most Georgians.


Nationwide, Memorial Day celebrations center on the soldiers and victorious veterans of the Civil War. It was a holiday which was shunned in the state and the rest of the South 100 years ago. Most southern states held ceremonies for Memorial Day or Decoration Day, a day to set aside to decorate mili-tary graves, honoring Confederate veterans at various times in April, May and June. In Atlanta, the na-tional Memorial Day, which usually came on the last weekend of May was rarely mentioned in public.


A dwindling handful of Grand Army of the Republic or Union soldier veterans held a quiet dinner in the Kimball House. A number of African-American churches held memorial services and there were special ceremonies at the National Military Cemetery in Marietta, Georgia, where Union soldiers were buried.


One local writer pointed out in 1915 that the Memorial Day “division” was the last great hindrance to a genuine reunification of the North and South and that the 50th anniversary of the end of the Civil War should see an end to separate commemorations.


“Until there is a union or composite Memorial Day the perfect restoration of national amity will lack just a little of accomplishment,” he wrote. He added that the honoring of veterans of the Spanish American War of 1898 had closed the gap somewhat but there was much work to be done.


It was wasn’t until decades later and two world wars that the observance of the traditional Memorial Day during the last weekend in May united Atlantans in events and ceremonies honoring all American military veterans.


-Dick Funderburke

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