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Southland's Most-Honored Day: All-Day Singings, Dinner on The Ground

Updated on June 23, 2017
kenneth avery profile image

Kenneth is a natural-born southerner and grew up his entire life in the south where he has resided now for 63 years in Hamilton, Al.,

All-Day Singing and Dinners on The Ground--Origin

in post-Civil War times, the tradition of decorating graves with flowers began on different days and places around the Southland. The first formal act of memorialization of the dead took place in Charleston, South Carolina on May 1, 1865. This time-honored time was known as "Decoration Day," in the deep South, most decorations were observed on the first Sunday in May.

Union soldiers finding their way back home, finally moved into Charleston, the remaining Confederates left the city, leaving the newly-freed slaves behind. Former slaves and soldiers began organizing themselves among the ruins left them.

Some all day singings and  dinners on the ground varied in sizes.
Some all day singings and dinners on the ground varied in sizes. | Source
Ladies in the South start preparation for Decoration as early in the fall of the year.
Ladies in the South start preparation for Decoration as early in the fall of the year. | Source
Dinner on the grounds, Corinth Baptist Church 1985.
Dinner on the grounds, Corinth Baptist Church 1985. | Source

As time went by

the artwork of the soldiers' families whose family members were killed in action were respectfully honored by surviving families by placing sprays and pots of freshly-grown flowers on these early tombstones hand-carved with the deceased men and women's names and birth dates to remain in the memories of those saddened Civil War families from years many years forward.

The decorations were not just about honoring the memories of valiant Civil War soldiers and not just about the tragic bloodshed and suffering brought from this war, but the tombstones meant one thing for these brave warriors: Passion. A rigid mindset of believing a governmental ideology that meant a certain end to a certain thinking and a life who thought of it.

Decoration Day (or Time) was a day that these mostly-southern families looked forward to from one decoration to the other. With this annual event, decoration was not only about the decorating of loved ones' graves with pretty flowers, but the remaining families would meet in and near the cemeteries talking, laughing, and sharing news about farming, politics, and what new recipes were shared by the women.

Newspapers were very slow to reach most areas of the South land and radio was only a dream on the far horizon, so decorations saw the perfect time for families to renew friendship and just enjoy the pleasant memories of the loved ones who gave their all (for both sides) in the Civil War.

Food and fellowship go hand-in-hand with a decoration and all-day singing.
Food and fellowship go hand-in-hand with a decoration and all-day singing. | Source
The Statesmen and Black Wood Brothers quartets) started early when decorations and all-day singings were in their infancy.
The Statesmen and Black Wood Brothers quartets) started early when decorations and all-day singings were in their infancy. | Source
The late, Jake Hess, Gospel Music icon.
The late, Jake Hess, Gospel Music icon. | Source
Jimmie Davis was best known for "You Are My Sunshine," more than being the one time governor of Louisiana.
Jimmie Davis was best known for "You Are My Sunshine," more than being the one time governor of Louisiana. | Source

As natural progression

went forward, the standard annual Decoration Day(s) for church buildings and cemeteries that spotted the rural landscape, evolved to another marriage, not of convenience, but a loving addition to this storied event: The All-Day Singing. Now decoration days had a hand to hold with all-day singings that made (that) one Sunday in May the most-memorable day of the year.

The all-day singing was an easy idea to form. Many church leaders of the day saw that the decorations brought many families together and would not see each other until the next year, so churches began to hold all-day singings that would complement the decorating of loved ones' graves and their memories.

An all-day singing would normally start around 10 a.m., with morning prayer by the church pastor or senior deacon and congregational singing would feature hymns from standard songs of faith and courage and even this sometimes-overlooked event evolved to church bodies using a songbook by Stamps-Baxter song publishing and printing that blanketed most of the South.

Some more-prosperous church memberships were revolutionary in their thinking to start asking known Gospel Music singers and quartets to be the special singers of that decoration day and dinners on the grounds.

Early Gospel singers were Jake Hess, Hovie Lister and The Stamps Quartet as well as a young Jimmy Swaggart, who was just beginning his ministry sang at a lot of these church-related events and Jimmie Davis, (Sept. 11, 1899 – Nov. 5, 2000), singer and songwriter of both sacred and popular songs, "You Are My Sunshine," being his best known--also served for two non-consecutive terms from 1944–48 and from 1960–64 as the governor of his native Louisiana.

Tombstones in the early days of decoration days were decorated like this in the south land.
Tombstones in the early days of decoration days were decorated like this in the south land. | Source
Royal Family Singing Convention  take a break from the singing to enjoy  the food.
Royal Family Singing Convention take a break from the singing to enjoy the food. | Source
Sunday afternoon at the  Big Island Pentecostal Church  in Deville, Louisiana, 1989.
Sunday afternoon at the Big Island Pentecostal Church in Deville, Louisiana, 1989. | Source
All day singing dinner  on the grounds were happening as early as 1940.
All day singing dinner on the grounds were happening as early as 1940. | Source

A much-anticipated

mid-Decoration Day, All-Day Singing were the fabled Dinners on The Ground and the title is self-explanatory for if these church and decoration attendees were hearty eaters, a delicious noon time lunch was prepared (weather permitting) on the very grounds on the outside of the church building.

The dinners on the ground were works of culinary masterpieces made by the local women who hosted the church who was having the decoration and all-day singing. Southern-fried chicken, okra, green beans, corn-on-the-cob, chicken and dumplings as well as Blue Ribbon-winning cakes, pies, and hand pies that were almost never served for left-overs.

Every dish of the dinners on the ground was homemade and the novel idea of someone catering an event of this scope was unheard of, but many today would testify that it was the dinners on the ground that tied the decorations and all-day singings complete and so enjoyable.

Decorations for many areas in the south begin to dwindle as younger generations came to expect a meaningful worship service, a meal with the family either at home or in a restaurant and then an afternoon to watch a baseball or football game and just slumber away the time with needed-rest for the younger people today have jobs to tend to and bills to pay.

But the decorations, all-day singings and dinners on the ground are still alive in in areas of the southland even in 2017. Churches with names such as: New Hope; Pleasant Ridge; Mt. Hope, all in Marion County, Alabama, Hamilton, to be exact and others are still having these yearly events and the percentage of the younger generations are beginning to take root of the (ever-popular) yearly event: Decoration day, all-day singing and dinners on the ground.

More informative links pertaining All-Day Singings and Dinners on The Ground:

https://nourishingdeath.wordpress.com/.../decoration-day-and-dinner-on-the-ground/ (accompanies the website, nourishingdeath.wordpress.com that deals specifically about this topic and it's poignant place in Southern culture.

https://www.amazon.com/All-Day-Singing-Dinner-Ground-Willadeene/

(deals with facts about the early days about all-day singings.)

https://fasola.org/introduction/Jim_C.html

(This link pertains to the singers who had starts in the early days of the South.)

www.ncpedia.org/dinner-gr

(This link has a small amount of history about this topic.)

This painting was named: "The All-Day Singing."
This painting was named: "The All-Day Singing." | Source

© 2017 Kenneth Avery

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    • kenneth avery profile image
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      Kenneth Avery 3 months ago from Hamilton, Alabama

      Hi, MizBejabbers,

      You are so sweet. Thank you for your comment that too, made me feel great. I also listen to these same recordings on YouTube on my computer and the older ones, I LOVE. Not so much about Contemporary Christian Music, but that is for the younger believers in Christ.

      No condemning by my part.

      I just did my part in living this as I wrote it and I ask God to bless you for reading and commenting.

      I should have a few NEW hubs in the days to come. I am recovering from a nasty fall last Saturday night and I bruised two ribs. Not from any alcohol or drugs for I do not do any of these horrible things. I simply got over-balanced.

      I want to be back to HP in around two weeks or less.

      Thanks again, Dear Friend and Write me anytime.

    • MizBejabbers profile image

      MizBejabbers 5 months ago

      What great memories you've brought us, sweet Kenneth. Gosh, I remember those singers you mentioned. I still enjoy listening to recordings of those great voices that didn't need electronic reverb or other magnification to sound great.

      I'm not sure I ever got to attend one; the Wednesday night suppers were the closest the First Baptist Church ever came to such as that. I heard both sets of my grandparents speak of such, though. My paternal Grandmother's grandfather and uncle were circuit riding preachers in the Ozarks and she attended many of them. My maternal grandfather was an old-time Ozark musician who taught people to sing from hymnals with shaped notes, so he had some tales also.

      You write about such sweet things. Keep it up.