Labor Day is the day we celebrate the process our mothers went through to deliver us at birth. Sorry, wrong holiday. Labor Day in the U.S. is the day we celebrate the achievements of the American labor movement. While it is still disputed whether the holiday was first proposed by Peter J. McGuire, the general secretary of the Brotherhood of Carpenters, or Matthew Maguire, a machinist and secretary of the Central Labor Union in New York — observances of the holiday go back over a century in the U.S.
The first Labor Day celebration was September 5, 1882, in New York City and was organized by the Central Labor Union. The legislature of New York first deliberated a bill to establish a regular holiday, but Oregon was the first to pass it on February 21, 1887. It was first proposed as “a street parade to exhibit to the public the strength and esprit de corps of the trade and labor organizations.”
In other countries, it’s often celebrated as International Workers’ Day on May Day. The U.S. does not observe it on May 1st for at least two reasons. The more recent one is that May 1 became associated with the Russian Revolution and Communism. But the more critical part of the backstory starts with the Chicago Haymarket Affair of 1886.
You may have noticed that September sounds like the Latin word for Seven. And you’d be perceptive — septem is the Latin word for seven, and this month used to be the seventh month of the ancient Roman calendar. This Latin numbering follows with the remaining months of the year, as I’ve highlighted below: eight/oct, nine/nov, ten/dec.
Legend has it that this calendar was started by Romulus, the founder and first king of Rome, at around 753 BC. The months counted up as follows:
- Martius – 31 Days
- Aprilis – 30 Days
- Maius – 31 Days
- Iunius – 30 Days
- Quintilis – 31 Days
- Sextilis – 30 Days
- September – 30 Days
- October – 31 Days
- November – 30 Days
- December – 30 Days
HISTORY OF I HAVE A DREAM SPEECH
It was 57 years ago today that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his famous “I Have a Dream” speech. It continues to echo down the halls of history almost six decades later.
The occasion for his speech on August 28, 1963, was the March on Washington at the hight of the civil rights movement. Over a quarter of a million supporters gathered at the Mall in Washington D.C., where King delivered his public speech from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, looking over the Reflecting Pool.
President John F. Kennedy had proposed earlier that year in June new civil rights registration, and this march was to demonstrate support for its passage. It was remarkable because it was one of the first such demonstrations of that size that was given extensive television coverage.
HISTORY OF THE 19TH AMENDMENT: WOMEN’S RIGHT TO VOTE
One hundred years ago, on August 26, 1920, the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was adopted. This prohibited both the Federal government and State governments from denying the right to vote to citizens of the United States based on sex. Effectively, this meant that the right to vote could no longer be denied to women. The text, in part, read:
The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex. Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.
For over 70 years before that, the women’s movement had been pressing for the legal right of women to vote, going back to the 1848 women’s rights Seneca Falls Convention, “a convention to discuss the social, civil, and religious condition and rights of woman.” Two years later, the National Women’s Rights Convention in 1850 saw suffrage as an important part of the movement. In 1869 the Women’s Movement coalesced around two different organizations.
In 1860 Susan B. Anthony led the National American Woman Suffrage Association. The other was led by Lucy Stone, who and helped organize the earlier National Women’s Rights Convention, and had influenced both Anthony and Stanton.
These two groups combined in 1873 into the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, which campaigned for women’s suffrage, as well as for a “sober and pure world” achieved by “abstinence, purity, and evangelical Christianity.” This was to have a powerful impact on the passage of the 18th Amendment, the prohibition of alcohol in the U.S. in 1919. (more…)
HISTORY OF THE CALIFORNIA GOLD RUSH
On August 19, 1848, the New York Herald reported the news along the American East Coast of the California Gold Rush. It was not new news to those further West, as the gold rush had started in January and was publicized in San Francisco in March. However, the New York Herald was the most profitable and popular newspaper in the US at that time, and by the dawn of the American Civil War the newspaper claimed a circulation of 84,000 copies and called itself “the most largely circulated journal in the world.” In any event, the news of the gold rush spread to a much larger audience than previously and circulated the gold fever much wider than before.
James Marshall was installing a water-powered sawmill along the American River in Coloma, California when his carpenter discovered gold flakes in the stream bed in North-central California at Sutter’s Mill on January 24, 1848. Despite trying to keep the discovery a secret the news spread in all directions — initially to Oregon, Hawaii, Mexico, Central America, Chile, Peru, and as far as China.
By mid-June about three-quarters of the male population of San Francisco had left for the goldfields. By the end of 1848, around 20,000 had come to California to seek their fortune.
The military governor, Colonel Richard B. Mason toured the goldfields and reported: two miners on Weber Creek gathered $17,000 of gold in just seven days; six miners with fifty Native American Indians took out 273 pounds of gold; sales at the goldfield merchandise store of San Brannan’s — a San Francisco entrepreneur — had totaled $36,000 in the three months of May, June, and July. It was Gold Fever.
HISTORY OF WOODSTOCK
August 15 marks the anniversary of the “3 Days of Peace & Music” held in 1969 at Max Yasgur’s 600-acre dairy farm in the rural town of Bethel, New York, southwest of the village of Woodstock.
I’d like to share with you what it was like to be there — the music, the crowds “half a million strong”, the rain, the muddy roads, the traffic jams, the counterculture vibe, the media coverage, the movie film crew, the atmosphere, the awareness of its own importance, the sense of history in the making:
- What it was like to hear Jimi Hendrix electrically and psychedelically reinterpret the national anthem The Star-Spangled Banner
- To experience the frenetic exuberance of The Who define a new youth anthem with We’re Not Gonna Take It and My Generation
- What it was like to hear the newly formed supergroup Crosby Stills, Nash & Young say “This is only the second time we’ve performed in front of people, we’re scared s***less!”
- To describe to you what it was like to participate in “peace, love, and rock & roll.”
I’d like to do this, but I wasn’t there. However, I do remember it when it occurred. And of course, who hasn’t seen the 1970 Academy Award-winning documentary movie — edited by a young Martin Scorsese.
Over fifty years ago almost half a million Baby Boomers attended one of the defining moments of American Post-Modernism. While The Beatles may have introduced it earlier in the ’60s, Woodstock pulled together many of the distinctively American voices. This music festival was called “An Aquarian Exposition” though it now may feel more like the “dawning of the aging of Aquarius.”
Here were the performers, 32 different acts performed over the course of the four days, in Yasgur’s field, from Friday to the morning of Monday — with a few of my comments:
HISTORY OF INFINITY DAY: AUGUST 8
Infinity Day is also known as Universal & International Infinity Day. It is a commemoration held on the 8th day of the 8th month of each year to celebrate and promote Philosophy and Philosophizing for the ordinary person.
Why 8 is significant:
- 8 planets in the Solar System — since Pluto got demoted.
- 8 is the atomic number of Oxygen.
- 8 is the maximum number of electrons that can occupy a valence shell in atomic physics.
- 8 people were saved in the Flood at the time of Noah.
- 8th day: Jesus was circumcised, as the brit mila is held for Jewish boys.
- 8 is the number of legs a spider or octopus has.
- 8 is 2 cubed.
- 8 follows 7 but stops before 9 making it the only non-zero perfect power that is one less than another perfect power.
- 8 is the basis of the octal system, each digit representing 3 bits. A byte is 8 bits.
- 8 displayed horizontally is the symbol of infinity
What’s in a name? The name of this month wasn’t always August; previously it was called Sextilis by the Romans. This was back in the days of Romulus in 753 BC when there were originally ten months (… Sept, Oct, Nov, Dec.) The Roman Senate, in 8 B.C., decided to honor their first Emperor, Augustus Caesar, by changing the name of the month to Augustus.
Now Augustus wasn’t his name; it was a description of his importance. He was born as Gaius Octavius, though he is known in the history books as Gaius Julius Caesar Octavianus, or Octavius to his friends. The title Augustus in Latin comes from augere “to increase” and was granted to him in 27 B.C. by the Roman Senate.
In a religious sense, it meant “venerable” or “consecrated,” signifying his role in the Roman cultus. We use the term in English to describe someone auspicious, grand, or lordly… or with imperial qualities. The Greek equivalent is Sebaste (Σεβαστή).
You know about Augustus from the Christmas story in Luke 2:
Now in those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus, that a census be taken of all the inhabited earth [i.e., the Roman Empire].
187 years ago today, on July 26, 1833, the Slavery Abolition Act passed its third reading in the House of Commons, ensuring the end of slavery in the British Empire. It was authored by William Wilberforce.
August 24 marks the birthday of British statesman and England’s greatest abolitionist William Wilberforce. He was a man well known to the Founding Fathers of the American Revolution and became not just a politician, philanthropist, and abolitionist, but also a writer of such popularity (in his own day) as C.S. Lewis was in the 20th century. As I mentioned in my first article on the History of Amazing Grace, Wilberforce’s mentor was the song’s author John Newton. The popular film “Amazing Grace” tells, in brief, the life of Wilberforce.
William Wilberforce was born in 1759 to privilege and wealth in 18th century England and though physically challenged, worked for nearly 20 years to push through Parliament bills for both the abolition of the slave trade as well as the emancipation of enslaved people in the British Empire, almost 200 years ago. (more…)