Thursday, July 4, 2013

The Fourth of July

On July 4, 1777, the night sky of Philadelphia shone with the blaze of bonfires below. Candles illuminated the windows of houses and public buildings. Church bells and volleys from ship cannons broke the quiet. The city was celebrating the first anniversary of the founding of the United States. One year earlier, on July 4, 1776, American patriots had signed the Declaration of Independence, which announced to the world that the 13 colonies no longer belonged to England.

The Fourth of July soon became the main patriotic holiday of the entire country. Veterans of the Revolutionary War made a tradition of gathering on the Fourth to remember their victory. In towns and cities, the American flag flew; shops displayed red, white, and blue decorations; and people marched in parades that were followed by public readings of the Declaration of Independence.

Declared a federal holiday in 1941, the Fourth of July is still a day for celebrating America's birth. It is also a day for picnics, parades, swimming, and games. In the evening, many Americans gather to watch fireworks that light up the sky.

John Adams, a signer of the Declaration of Independence and the second President, thought that Americans should observe " a great anniversary festival with pomp and parade....with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires and illuminations...from time to time forward forevermore."

Wednesday, July 3, 2013


The name "Kentucky" comes from an Iroquois Indian word, kenta, which probably meant meadowland. If so, it is a good name for a state that is famous for its meadows. Some of the world's fastest racehorses have grazed on Kentucky's bluegrass pastures. The grass isn't really blue. But in spring, it produces tiny blue flowers that give a blue cast to the lush fields and lawns.

Kentucky's first people, the Cherokees and other Native Americans, were pushed west after white settlers began arriving in the 1770s. Daniel Boone guided some of the first settlers across the Appalachian Mountains into Kentucky.

Over the years, Kentucky became known for its coal mines, tobacco fields, bourbon whiskey, and racehorses.

The Kentucky Derby, one of the world's top horse races, is run each year at Churchill Downs near Louisville, the state's largest city. Kentucky has other special places, too. Mammoth Cave National Park, in central Kentucky, is the largest cave system in the world. And at Fort Knox, near Louisville, the U.S. government stores billions of dollars' worth of gold in heavily guarded vaults.

Two men born in Kentucky led the opposing sides in the Civil War: Abraham Lincoln, president of the United States and Jefferson Davis, president of the Confederacy.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Anne Hutchinson

Freedom of religion is a constitutional right that many Americans take for granted. But in the early days of settlement, it was dangerous to disagree with the religious views of colonial leaders. One person who had the courage to stand up for her beliefs was Anne Hutchinson.

Hutchinson and her family came from England to the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1634. The Puritans who controlled the colony believed that people could win salvation only by obeying the teachings of the Bible and the Puritan ministers. Hutchinson believed that people could communicate directly with God, without the help of a church or a minister. She held meetings in her home to explain her beliefs and began to attract supporters. The colony's governor, John Winthrop, and the Puritan clergy saw Hutchinson as a threat to their church. They tried her for heresy (denying the teachings of the church) and forced her to leave the colony in 1638.

Anne Hutchinson and her family moved to Rhode Island, a colony that welcomed freethinkers and allowed religious freedom. Later, she moved to New York, where she was killed in an Indian attack in 1643.

Anne Hutchinson came from a family of religious dissenters. In England, her father was twice suspended from the Anglican church for questioning its teachings.

Monday, July 1, 2013

The Puerto Ricans in America

In parts of New York City and other cities in the Northeast and Midwest, Spanish is heard as often as English. These cities are home to many of the 2.7 million Puerto Ricans who live on the U.S. mainland. Like the 4 million people who live in Puerto Rico, they are U.S. citizens.

The U.S. gained control of Puerto Rico in 1898 in the Spanish-American War, and by an act of Congress, Puerto Ricans became citizens in 1917.

Puerto Ricans form the second-largest Latino group in the U.S., after Mexican-Americans. Some Puerto Ricans came to the U.S. before 1945. But after World War II, the number of arrivals swelled.

The establishment of regular airline service  made the trip easy and inexpensive. Because economic conditions on the island were bleak, many Puerto Ricans moved to the mainland in search of work.

Many found life hard in American cities. They faced discrimination and poverty. Today, some Puerto Ricans still lead difficult lives in the U.S., but others have overcome their hardships and have established themselves in America's mainstream, while still observing their cultural traditions.

Many Puerto Ricans travel back and forth between the mainland and the island on a regular basis.

Notable Americans of Puerto Rican birth or decent include performers Rita Moreno, Jimmy Smits, and Rosie Perez; talk-show host Geraldo Rivera; and the late baseball star Roberto Clemente.