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Fifth of July is also a day to celebrate

In the afterglow of the rockets’ red glare and the cold embers of millions of barbecues, what could be said about the humble Monday that followed?

It was, after all, one of those orphaned holidays, an accident of the calendar that occurs when employers observe something their workers celebrated the day before. But, it turns out the humble Fifth of July has its own noteworthy annals, even if they are not exactly worth lighting a fuse over.

The date has certainly had its own firsts. Hormel Foods introduced Spam, the luncheon meat, on July 5, 1937. In what seems to have been an apparently unrelated development, Dolly the sheep, the first cloned mammal, was born on July 5, 1996.

The fashion designer Louis Reard introduced "le bikini" at a Paris swimming pool on July 5, 1946. He named it after the American atomic bomb test that had taken place shortly before at Bikini Atoll in the Pacific Ocean. Ba-ba-boom, Reard.

The unassuming date could also merit respect for providing a pair of tidy bookends in the U.S. labor movement. In 1934, police officers in San Francisco opened fire on striking longshoreman in one of the country’s most significant and violent labor clashes. On the same date a year later, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the National Labor Relations Act, guaranteeing the rights of employees to organize and to bargain collectively with their employers.

"That’s a big moment in American labor history, absolutely," said Joshua B. Freeman, a labor historian at the City University of New York.

The history of the contrived three-day weekend itself is a long discussion, though not one that ever involved Independence Day.

On Sept. 16, 1912, The New York Times published a letter from Margaret D. Walsh proposing that Decoration Day (later changed to Memorial Day) be moved from May 30 to the last Monday in May, "thus beginning the short summer season as it ends, with a little extra vacation for all."

Soon after, the newspaper published a seemingly tongue-in-cheek response signed "publisher" declaring it evident that such propositions could only emanate from "Wall Street or some business which is not at all essential to the public."

"Personally, I find that it is almost impossible for me to have a Monday holiday, and if all holidays should occur on Monday, it would be pretty tough luck," the unnamed publisher wrote (speaking words that ring true in a newsroom nearly a century later).

It would not be until 1968 that President Lyndon B. Johnson signed a bill, which went into effect in 1971, providing five three-day holiday weekends for federal workers by permanently tying them to Mondays (Veterans Day was later pulled off the list).

In other countries, July 5 is no day after. It is the day signifying independence in Algeria (from France, in 1962), Cape Verde (from Portugal, in 1975) and Venezuela (from Spain, in 1811).

Even here, some towns took advantage of the extra day by launching their fireworks on July 5, including Summit, N.J., where the local clergy requested that the long day of traditional events not be held on Sunday.

"It also should help us a little bit with some of our costs," including overtime, and bargaining with suppliers, said Mayor Jordan Glatt.

Some Fifth of July events serve as a poignant reminder of our continuing struggle to make true the best-known line from the Declaration of Independence: "We hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness."

In 1947, Larry Doby made his debut with the Cleveland Indians as the first black player in the American League, 11 weeks after Jackie Robinson had signed with the Brooklyn Dodgers of the National League.

In 1975, Arthur Ashe became the first black man to win Wimbledon.

With all the festivals and flags and family, it is easy to forget that all was not wine and roses in America on July 5, 1776.

On that day, it was not even widely known yet that independence had been declared. Americans had enjoyed a period of advantage in the war, but a British armada would soon arrive and change the war’s course, said Jack Rakove, a professor of history at Stanford University and the author of a new book, "Revolutionaries: A New History of the Invention of America."

"It’s a funny period in one sense," Rakove said. "The war goes terribly for the Americans for the rest of the year."


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