As part of our This Day in History series, we bring you a collection of
people’s history stories from July 4th: Beyond 1776.
On July 4, 1827, slavery was abolished in New York, following a gradual emancipation law that went into effect in 1799. However, as historian James Horton explains in a PBS interview, New York continued to benefit economically from the system of human bondage. “New York really provided much of the capital that made the plantation economy in the South possible.”
Learn more in these two resources by Alan Singer, the book New York and Slavery: Time to Teach the Truth and an article, “Reclaiming Hidden History: Students Create a Slavery Walking Tour in Manhattan,” about how he and his students organized a tour of the hidden history of slavery in New York.
In 1852, abolitionist Frederick Douglass delivered his speech “The Meaning of July Fourth for the Negro,” on July 5 at an event commemorating the signing of the Declaration of Independence in Rochester, New York. Douglass’ words resonate today.
The rich inheritance of justice, liberty, prosperity, and independence, bequeathed by your fathers, is shared by you, not by me. The sunlight that brought life and healing to you, has brought stripes and death to me. This Fourth [of] July is yours, not mine. You may rejoice, I must mourn. To drag a man in fetters into the grand illuminated temple of liberty, and call upon him to join you in joyous anthems, were inhuman mockery and sacrilegious irony.
On July 4, 1854, abolitionists—including William Lloyd Garrison, Sojourner Truth, Lucy Stone, and Henry David Thoreau—addressed a rally sponsored by the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society. At the rally, Garrison burned copies of the Fugitive Slave Act and the U.S. Constitution, crying out “So perish all compromises with tyranny!” This referred to two recent incidents: the passing of the Kansas-Nebraska Act into law on May 30, which expanded slavery into these territories; and the arrest and the re-enslavement of Anthony Burns who had been taken into custody on May 24 in Boston, in compliance with the Fugitive Slave Act, a component of the Compromise of 1850. Read a detailed description about the rally at the Massachusetts Historical Society and about Anthony Burns’ capture at PBS’s Africans in America website.
Use the teaching activity, ‘If There Is No Struggle…’: Teaching a People’s History of the Abolition Movement, where students become members of the American Anti-Slavery Society, facing many of the real challenges to ending slavery.
On July 4, 1876, 100 years after the signing of the Declaration of Independence, members of the National Woman Suffrage Association crashed the Centennial Celebration at Independence Hall in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, to present the “Declaration of the Rights of Women.” The declaration was signed by noted suffragists Susan B. Anthony, Matilda Joslyn Gage, and Elizabeth Cady Stanton. Read more about this at event at Ms. Magazine and read the full document at the Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony Papers Project.
Explore an earlier period of the women’s suffrage movement in “Seneca Falls, 1848: Women Organize for Equality,” a role play that allows students to examine issues of race and class when exploring both the accomplishments and limitations of the Seneca Falls Convention.
On July 4, 1876, (in the midst of a heated Reconstruction era local election season) a Black militia was engaged in military exercises when two white farmers attempted to drive through. Although the farmers got through the military formation after an initial argument, this event provided the excuse sought by whites to suppress Black voting through violence. On July 6, in a courtroom, the farmers charged the militia with obstructing the road. The case was postponed to July 8, by which time more than 100 whites from local counties had gathered in town, armed with weapons. The accused Blacks attempted to flee, but 25 men were captured and six were murdered. Read more about the Hamburg Massacre at the Long Civil Rights Movement. Read about the historic marker and about Senator Ben Tillman who led the mob attack.
On July 4, 1917, The Voice: A Newspaper for the New Negro—the first newspaper of the “New Negro Movement,” edited by Hubert H. Harrison—made its debut at a rally held at the Metropolitan Baptist Church in Harlem. Referring to the massacre the day before of African Americans in St. Louis, Harrison reportedly said, “They are saying a great deal about democracy in Washington now,” but, “while they are talking about fighting for freedom and the Stars and Stripes, here at home the white apply the torch to the Black men’s homes, and bullets, clubs and stones to their bodies.” Read more in “Hubert Harrison Urges Armed Self-Defense at Harlem Rally” by Jeffrey Perry.
Learn more about the history of media in the United States, through the lens of race, in the book News for All the People: The Epic Story of Race and the American Media by Juan González and Joseph Torres.
On July 4, 1963, Clyde Kennard, an unsung hero of civil rights, died at the age of 36 from cancer. When Kennard returned from fighting in the Korean War, he put his life on the line in the 1950s by attempting to enroll at Mississippi Southern College (now USM-Hattiesburg) and seeking to become the first African American to attend. Kennard wrote poignant letters about the need for desegregation and his right to attend Mississippi Southern College. Instead of being admitted, the state of Mississippi framed him on criminal charges for a petty crime and sentenced him to seven years of hard labor at Parchman Penitentiary where he was beaten and serious health problems went untreated.
Read more about Kennard’s brave story and his moving letters on the Zinn Education Project website.
Only July 4, 1965, 40 gay and lesbian activists held the first Annual Reminder demonstration in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, symbolically held in front of Independence Hall, meant to draw attention to the civil rights still due to the LGBT community. Frank Kameny and Barbara Gittings were the principal organizers of this event, one of the many pre-cursors to the Stonewall Rebellion of 1969 that ignited the LGBT movement on a national level. Read more at LGBT50.org. Visit the Barbara Gittings and Kay Tobin Lahusen Gay History Papers and Photographs collection at the New York Public Library.
Explore resources on LGBT issues at the Zinn Education Project.
On July 4, 1966, the Minimum Wage March began in Rio Grande City, Texas, by the Independent Workers’ Association, a predominantly Mexican American union of farmworkers, to gain $1.25 minimum wage and be recognized as the bargaining agent. After previous strikes in the fields, the farm workers decided to take their issues to the state capital and raise public awareness of their demands for a living wage. When negotiations with state politicians failed, farmworkers continued to protest through the 1967 farming season. In September 1967, Hurricane Beulah hit the farm region, devastating crops. The union then shifted its focus to providing services to farm families. Read more and see photos at the University of Texas-San Antonio Archives.
Use the teaching activity “What Rights Do We Have?” to teach some of the nuts and bolts of labor unions and to invite students to consider what rights they have at work.
On July 4, 1969, leader of the United Farmworkers Cesar Chavez appeared on the cover of Time magazine. At the height of the California Grape Boycott campaign, a union of Filipino and Mexican American farm workers, Chavez was cast as the symbol for Mexican American civil rights. Dr. Carlos Munoz, Jr., Professor Emeritus of UC Berkeley’s Department of Ethnic Studies, recalls:
I remember feeling proud when his portrait appeared on the front page of Time magazine. I was elated that our struggles for social justice, civil rights, and peace, were finally being discovered by the nation—and, remarkably, on the Fourth of July.
The United Farmworkers went on to win its campaign, when the first union contracts were signed, granting workers better pay, benefits, and protections. Read more at the Farmworker Movement Documentation Project.
Explore resources on the United Farm Workers at the Zinn Education Project.
On July 4, 2013, rallies around the country protested the National Security Agency’s spying program, as brought to light by whistleblower Edward Snowden earlier that year. Organizers cited the 4th Amendment—“the right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated”—in the mass collection of data undertaken by the U.S. government. Read more about the protests and ways to take action at the Free Press website.
To find more “This Day in History” posts, like us on Facebook or check out the Facebook feed on the Zinn Education Project website. If you have Fourth of July people’s history stories to share, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.