July 4th - Independence Day
The traditional celebrations of July 4th will look different this year as the nation reflects on its history and we deal with the pandemic gripping the nation. Picnics, barbeques, concerts, and family gatherings must be done with caution and social distancing. It is also a time to reflect on our nation’s history as it relates to the current social and equality movements taking place in the country today.
July 4th was established as a federal holiday in 1941 to celebrate our independence as a nation. However, July 2nd, 1776 was the date Congress voted on the resolution to separate from Britain and become “free and independent states”. On July 4th congress voted on the formal document known as The Declaration of Independence. The Declaration itself was not signed until August 1776.
The Adams Family Papers, in the collection of the Massachusetts Historical Society, contains a letter from John Adams to Abigail Adams written on 3 July 1776 in which he states:
“The Second Day of July 1776, will be the most memorable Epocha, in the History of America. I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated, by succeeding Generations, as the great anniversary Festival. It ought to be commemorated, as the Day of Deliverance by Solemn Acts of Devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be Solemnized with Pomp and Parade with Shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other from this Time forward forever more.”
The July 18, 1777 issue of the Virginia Gazette recounts Philadelphia's 4th of July celebration. The ships were dressed with the colors of the United States. At 1:00 thirteen cannons were discharged from each ship signifying the thirteen colonies. A dinner for the Congress and other government officials, music, and a tribute paid to those who gave their lives to the cause of the country took place. “The evening was closed with the ringing of bells and at night, there was a grand exhibition of fireworks, (which began and concluded with thirteen rockets) on the commons, and the city was beautifully illuminated...Thus may the 4th of July, that glorious and ever memorable day, be celebrated through America, by the fans of freedom, from age to age till time shall be no more."
Because of the COVID-19 virus this year’s traditional Macy’s fireworks display will be a week-long celebration with smaller shows in each of the NYC boroughs, unannounced to avoid crowds. The celebration culminates with a televised music and fireworks special on July 4th.
The first Macy’s fireworks display was on July 1, 1958. The purpose was to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the department store chain founded by Rowland Hussey Macy. It was estimated that one million people watched the program from the east bank of the Hudson River with hundreds of children perched in trees along Riverside Drive and traffic jams in the city and across the river in NJ. The 36 minute display made up of two and a half tons of fireworks illuminated the city’s skyline. Among the more unique displays were Tinker Bell, a silhouette of the Macy’s store, the Spirit of ’76 and, in tribute to Capt. R. H. Macy store founder and former whaler, a fat bellied whale jeweled with lights. (Kaplan, Morris, “Million Here See River Fireworks: Line Hudson Shore to View Display Saluting Macy’s 100th Anniversary”, New York Times, July 2, 1958.)
"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal..."
Throughout history this phrase has been seen to exclude women, LGBTQ+, African-Americans and others who have sought equality.