Monday, July 4, 2011

It's Independence Day!

The 1991 SuperBowl Rendition of "The National Anthem"
by Whitney Houston is one of the best ever.

There are many different meanings, symbols, and histories of Independence Day here in America, and in Detroit. Let's explore a few.

Detroit was founded in 1701 by French explorer Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac as a fort along the Detroit River.

Detroit is a French word meaning strait. For example, in French one would refer to the Bering Strait as
Détroit de Béring.

In the case of Detroit, Michigan the label
détroit applies to the waterway that drains the waters of Lake Huron into Lake Erie. Today we refer to that waterway as three distinct parts: the St. Clair River, Lake St. Clair and the Detroit River.

The entire region of southeastern Michigan and southwestern Ontario had been referred to as Detroit since the 1600s, when French explorers first discovered the area. The full name was le Détroit du lac Érié.

The French pronunciation of "Detroit" is close to "Day-twah"; but you'll usually know a non-Detroiter by his/her pronunciation: "DEE-troit", putting the accent on the 1st syllable. We Detroiters, however, know that Detroit is pronounced "De-TROIT", putting the accent on the 2nd syllable.

In keeping with our French heritage, you'll also recognize Detroit "newbies" when they hilariously mangle the names of some of our French-named streets: St. Antoine, Livernois, Gratiot, DuBois, Rivard, and especially Cadieux!

The original occupants of Detroit, and of all of America for that matter, are the First Nations, Indigenous Peoples, or Native Americans. Although in Canada and the United States, the original tribes have recognized sovereignty while at the same time being citizens of their respective "new" countries, they are still waiting for their own "independence" (as they define it) from those who occupy their lands.

Famed 19th-century abolitionist Frederick Douglass, who was also active in the Women's Suffrage Movement, gave a moving now-famous speech on July 4, 1841 outlining why it was difficult for slaves and African-Americans to celebrate American Independence Day.

Many present-day African-Americans celebrate their emancipation from slavery as Juneteenth, which is widely recognized as the approximate date of June 19, 1865 when the last slaves in Galveston, Texas finally received word of the Emanicipation Proclamation (two and 1/2 years after it took effect on January 1 1863). Today, Juneteenth not only celebrates that date, but also emphasizes African-American education and achievement.

American Independence from the British is celebrated annually on July 4th, the day in 1776 that the Second Continental Congress unanimously adopted the Declaration of Independence. Although the citizens of Philadelphia, the capital of the United States at that time, celebrated "July 4th" one year later, it wasn't until after the War of 1812 that observing American Independence on "the 4th" became common.

Americans have celebrated Independence Day throughout our history with picnics, parades, fireworks, and important events such as the swearing-in of new naturalized citizens. Friends and families barbeque, hold contests and races, wave flags, sing, or listen to patriotic speeches. By the 1870s, the Fourth of July was one of America's most important holidays. The "4th of July" became a legal national holiday in 1941. John Philip Sousa's famous "Stars and Stripes Forever" can be heard everywhere American Independence is celebrated.

Whatever you will be doing on July 4th, remember those who gave the "ultimate sacrifice".

Boston Pops "Stars and Stripes Forever" July 4th, 2007

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