Memorial Week: Michael Quinn Patton on Remembering and Honoring Evaluation’s Pioneers

I am Michael Quinn Patton of Utilization-Focused Evaluation and former AEA president. I have coordinated and edited two weeks of AEA365 contributions from distinguished evaluation colleagues remembering and honoring select evaluation pioneers who made enduring contributions to the emergence of our field. Today we pause in this In Memoriam series to take an evaluation look at Memorial Day.

The American Memorial Day officially honors those who died in military service. It originated after the Civil War (1861-1865) in which 750,000 soldiers died and slavery was ended. It became an official federal holiday in 1971 and is commemorated by family gatherings, parades, and visiting cemeteries or memorials. Those remembered now extend beyond casualties of war.

Disputed Memorial Day Origins:

Evaluation often involves capturing diverse perspectives from diverse stakeholders. We often find different versions of how a program came into being. Memorial Day fits that pattern.

The holiday’s origin is contested. American history Professor David Blight at Yale University has focused attention on “the first widely publicized observance of a Memorial Day-type observance after the Civil War in Charleston, South Carolina. Nearly 10,000 people, mostly freed slaves, gathered on May 1 1865, to commemorate the war dead. Blight views that event as “the first Memorial Day”:

African Americans invented Memorial Day in Charleston, South Carolina. What you have there is black Americans recently freed from slavery announcing to the world with their flowers, their feet, and their songs what the war had been about. What they basically were creating was the Independence Day of a Second American Revolution.

However, in 1966, President Johnson and Congress officially proclaimed Waterloo, New York, as the birthplace of Memorial Day though other communities made similar and competing claims. An evaluation of various origination claims labeled them mostly “apocryphal legends” (Gardiner & Bellware, 2014).Patton May 30

Disputed date:

Traditionally Memorial Day was May 30. In 1968, Congress moved four holidays, including Memorial Day, to a Monday to create a convenient three-day weekend. Veterans groups believe that the change undermined the special significance and meaning of the day. This year Memorial Day falls on the traditional May 30 date.

Evaluations of holidays study the numbers of people who participate in what kinds of celebratory activities and what the holiday means to them.

Regardless of disputed origins and date, this year Memorial Day includes remembering and honoring evaluation pioneers who fought in the ongoing war against ignorance and ineffectiveness and in support of accountability, learning, and informed judgment.

References and Resources:

Memorial Day history websites:


Gardiner, R. & Bellware, D. (2014).  The Genesis of the Memorial Day Holiday.

The American Evaluation Association is celebrating Memorial Week in Evaluation: Remembering and Honoring Evaluation’s Pioneers. The contributions this week are remembrances of evaluation pioneers who made enduring contributions to our field. Do you have questions, concerns, kudos, or content to extend this aea365 contribution? Please add them in the comments section for this post on the aea365 webpage so that we may enrich our community of practice. Would you like to submit an aea365 Tip? Please send a note of interest to . aea365 is sponsored by the American Evaluation Association and provides a Tip-a-Day by and for evaluators.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.