Amid Fourth of July parades and fireworks, I found myself asking this: why do we call this day ‘Independence Day’ rather than ‘Revolution Day?’ The short answer,of course, is that on 4 July, we celebrate the signing of the Declaration of Independence, a day that has been commemorated since 1777.
“When I went to the Iv’ry Coast, about thirty years ago, I remember coming off the plane and just being assaulted with not only the heat but the color.” These were the first words of the most moving story I have ever heard—but it wasn’t the story I was there to collect. For me, the best oral histories are the ones that sound a human chord, stories that blur the spaces between historically significant narrative and personal development.
On 9 July 1755, British troops under the command of General Edward Braddock suffered one of the greatest disasters of military history. Braddock’s Defeat, or the Battle of the Monongahela, was the most important battle prior to the American Revolution, carrying with it enormous consequences for the British, French, and Native American peoples of North America.
Just as in Clarence Darrow’s day, the death penalty continues to be practiced in many American states. Yet around the world, the majority of nations no longer executes their prisoners, showing increasing support for the abolition of capital punishment. Recently, in December 2014, when the United Nations General Assembly introduced a resolution calling for an international moratorium on the use of the death penalty, a record 117 countries voted in favor of abolition, while only 38 nations, including the United States, voted against it.
On the Fourth of July, Americans will celebrate Independence Day at picnics, concerts, fireworks displays, and gatherings of many kinds, and they almost always sing. “America the Beautiful” will be popular, and so will “Our County, ’Tis of Thee” and of course the national anthem, “Star-Spangled Banner” (despite its notoriously unsingable tune). The words are so familiar that, really, no one pays attention to their meaning. But read them closely and be surprised how the lyrics describe the meaning of America in three very different ways.
Like many, I’m still digesting the Supreme Court’s Obergefell decision—not just its text, but its personal and social significance. When I wrote Debating Same-Sex Marriage with Maggie Gallagher (Oxford University Press, 2012), only a handful of states permitted same-sex couples to marry. In the three years since, that handful grew to dozens; last Friday’s decision grows it to all 50. One striking thing about the decision itself is the importance of the definitional question: What is marriage?
What truly awaits us on the ‘other side?’ From heaven to hell (and everything in between), our conceptions of the afterlife are more likely to be shaped by shows like The Walking Dead than biblical scripture. Speculation about death, it seems, has permeated every aspect of our everyday experience, manifesting itself in lyrics, paintings, and works of literature.
It was March 17, 1776, the mud season in New England. A Continental officer of high rank was guiding his horse through the potholed streets of Cambridge, Massachusetts. Those who knew horses noticed that he rode with the easy grace of a natural rider, and a complete mastery of himself.
This year marks the fiftieth anniversary of the congressional passage of the Hart-Celler Immigration and Nationality Act, signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson. It was the culmination of a trend toward reforming immigrant admissions and naturalization policies that had gathered momentum in the early years of the Cold War era.
Celebrate the end of Black Music Month with this timeline highlighting over 100 years of music created and produced by influential African-Americans. Kenny Gamble, Ed Wright, and Dyana Williams developed the idea for Black Music Month back in 1979 as a way to annually show appreciate for black music icons. After lobbying, President Jimmy Carter hosted a reception to formally recognize the month.
On May 15, Elisabeth Bing died at the age of 100. It is no exaggeration to say that during her long life she perhaps did more than any other individual to humanize childbirth practices in the United States. Obituaries and tributes to her rightly celebrate her role as a founding mother of the Lamaze movement in America and a lifelong advocate for improvement in maternity care.
On June 21, Mt. Zion United Methodist Church in Philadelphia, Mississippi will hold its fifty-first memorial service for three young civil rights workers murdered by the Ku Klux Klan at the start of the Freedom Summer. Andrew Goodman, James Chaney, and Michael Schwerner were activists who planned to create a voting rights school at the church, located in rural Neshoba County.
In 1970, archconservative journalist John Steinbacher seethed at what he considered the worst casualty of the Sixties, a decade defined by two Democratic presidencies, expanded federal intervention in what felt like every dimension of daily life and defiant young activists sporting shaggy beards and miniskirts rejecting authority of all kinds. Unable to withstand these seismic shifts, he despaired, the American family was in grave peril.
An effective counter-terrorism policy requires the identification of domestic or international threats to a government, its civil society, and its institutions. Enemies of the state can be internal or external. Communist regimes of the twentieth century, for example, focused on internal enemies.
James Brown was famously introduced by Lucas ‘Fats’ Gonder at the Apollo Theater in the early 1960s as ‘The Hardest Working Man in Show Business’, an epithet that stuck with Brown for his entire life. It is a fitting term for the word hip–the hardest working word in the lexicon of American slang. For more than 110 years, hip has found a prominent place in our slang, reshaping and repurposing itself every few decades to carry itself forward, from the early 20th century’s hip to today’s hipster movement.
On 10 June 1692, the condemned Bridget Bishop was carted from Salem jail to the place that would later be known as Gallows Hill, where Sheriff George Corwin reported he “caused the said Bridget to be hanged by the neck until she was dead.” She would be the first of 19 victims executed during the Salem witch trials.