The History of Memorial Day - National Council of Teachers of English
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The History of Memorial Day

This year, Memorial Day is observed in the United States on May 25. However, it was actually May 30 that in 1868 was designated by Commander in Chief John A. Logan of the Grand Army of the Republic, via General Order Number 11, as a memorial day “for the purpose of strewing with flowers or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion, and whose bodies now lie in almost every city, village, and hamlet churchyard in the land.

The first national celebration of the holiday took place May 30, 1868, at Arlington National Cemetery, where both Confederate and Union soldiers were buried. In 1971, federal law changed the observance of the holiday to the last Monday in May and extended the honor to all soldiers who died in American wars.

How can we remember our fallen soldiers today?

Have students visit the Stories from the Veterans History Project site. Once there, ask students to choose one of the featured interviews to listen to, peruse the previous releases, or look at an alphabetical list of interviews to find more interviews that may be of interest to them. Students select an interview that interests them and take notes while listening to remember important facts and details about the veteran’s life. After listening to the interview, students complete one of the projects below to honor the veteran they researched:

How will you recognize Memorial Day this year?

Curious about the NCTE and Library of Congress connection? Through a grant announced recently by NCTE Executive Director Emily Kirkpatrick, NCTE is engaged in new ongoing work with the Library of Congress, and “will connect the ELA community with the Library of Congress to expand the use of primary sources in teaching.” Stay tuned for more throughout the year!