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.

Friday, June 28, 2013

The U.S. Air Force

Five years after Orville and Wilbur Wright made the first successful airplane flight in 1903, they signed a contract with the U.S. Department of War for the first military airplane.

From that small start grew the U.S. Air Force, one of the most powerful fighting forces in the world.

At first, military aviation was part of the U.S. Army. During World War I, pilots such as Captain Eddie Rickenbacker, who shot down 23 German planes over France, became national heroes. But few people foresaw the crucial role air power would play in future wars.

One who did was General Billy Mitchell, who urged the U.S. to create a strong air force. He was proved right during World War II, when the ability of the U.S. to control the air was a key factor in its victories.

In 1947, the U.S. Air Force became a separate branch of the U.S. armed forces. Since then, its pilots have performed expertly in Korea, Vietnam, the Persian Gulf, and wherever  conflicts have arisen.

Also in 1947, the U.S. Air Force pilot Chuck Yeager, flying a rocket-powered X-1, became the first person to fly faster than the speed of sound.

Air Force men and women have placed key roles in the development of new aircraft and technology.

Today, about 500,000 people serve in the U.S. Air Force, which is divided  into 12 commands, including the Strategic Air Command and the Tactical Air Command.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Nat Turner's Rebellion

On the night of August 21, 1831, Nat Turner led a small band of fellow slaves into the Southhampton, Virginia, home of Joseph Travis, his owner. The slaves killed Travis and his family, and launched the bloodiest slave revolt in American history.

Nathaniel Turner was born into slavery on October 2, 1800. Recognizing the boy's intelligence, Travis allowed him to learn to read and write -- skills forbidden too most slaves.

When he was in his twenties, Turner began to have visions. In one, he saw "white spirits and black spirits engaging in battle". He knew, he later said, that he had been chosen by God to lead the slaves to freedom.

Turner himself planned the uprising. On that deadly night in 1831, Turner first killed the Travis family and then headed for Jerusalem, Virginia, enlisting more slaves along the way. During the next two days, violence reigned.

Some 70 slaves were killed nearly 60 white men, women, and children before the rebellion was stopped. As a result of the revolt, more than 100 slaves, many of them innocent, were shot to death or later tried and hanged. Turner was captured on October 30 and hanged on November 11, 1831.

As a result of Turner's rebellion, southern states enacted harsher slave laws. But the revolt strengthened the antislavery movement in the North.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

The Signing of the Mayflower Compact

After two long months at sea, the mood on the Mayflower was as foul as the weather. The ship had left Plymouth England, carrying two groups of passengers. One group, the "Saints," wanted to practice their religion far from England's established church. The other, the "Strangers," came to America seeking  a better life. Now, with land in sight, the two groups argued about how they would run their colony.

William Bradford, the leader of the Saints, worried that the Strangers would not obey a government created by his group. So he proposed that all adult men on board pledge to accept whatever government was formed in the new colony. The Strangers agreed.

On November 11, 1620, the Mayflower Compact was signed by 41 men, Saints and Strangers.

In the compact, the groups agreed to "...combine ourselves into a civil body politic, for our better ordering and preservation....and to enact, constitute and frame such just and equal shall be thought most...convenient for the general good of the colony."

With the Mayflower Compact, the Saints and Strangers created a model for people, who voluntarily came together to form a democratic government.

Today, the Saints and Strangers are known as the Pilgrims. Among the original Strangers were Captain Myles Standish, John Alden, and Priscilla Mullins.