Millions of Americans recently celebrated one of the biggest and most important holidays in American history.
From 1776 until the present day, July 4th has been celebrated as the birth of American independence, with festivities ranging from fireworks, parades and concerts to more casual family gatherings and barbecues.
Variously known as the Fourth of July and Independence Day, July 4th has been a federal holiday in the United States since 1941, but the tradition of Independence Day celebrations goes back to the 18th century and the American Revolution.
In June 1776, representatives from the 13 colonies were fighting in the Revolutionary War and working on a resolution that would declare their independence from Great Britain.
On July 2, the Continental Congress voted in favor of independence and two days later its delegates adopted the Declaration of Independence, a historic document drafted by Thomas Jefferson and many others.
In the years prior to the Revolutionary War, colonists had held annual celebrations of the king’s birthday, which traditionally included the ringing of bells, bonfires, processions and speeches.
During the summer of 1776 some of the people in the colonies celebrated the birth of independence by holding mock funerals for King George III, as a way of showing the end of his hold on America.
Some of the festivities included concerts, bonfires, parades and the firing of cannons and muskets, usually accompanied by the first public readings of the Declaration of Independence, beginning immediately after its adoption.
Philadelphia held the first annual commemoration of independence on July 4, 1777, while Congress was still occupied with the ongoing war.
George Washington issued double rations of rum to all his soldiers to mark the anniversary of independence in 1778 and in 1781, several months before the key American victory at Yorktown, Mass. became the first state to make July 4th an official state holiday.
After the Revolutionary War, Americans continued to celebrate Independence Day every year.
The celebrations allowed the new nation’s emerging political leaders to address citizens and create a feeling of unity.
The tradition of patriotic celebration became even more widespread after the War of 1812, in which the United States again faced Great Britain.
In 1870, the U.S. Congress made July 4th a federal holiday. In 1941, the provision was expanded to grant a paid holiday to all federal employees.
Over the years, the political importance of the holiday would decline, but Independence Day remained an important national holiday and a symbol of patriotism.
Falling in mid-summer, the Fourth of July since the late 19th century had activities of family get-togethers, often involving fireworks and outdoor barbecues.
Cherokee 4th Of July
One hundred years ago, Cherokee held a Fourth of July celebration.
1920 was the first documented Cherokee Fourth of July celebration that the Messenger & Republican could find.
It was a full day of events, starting at 7 a.m. with croquet, tennis and horseshoe tournaments.
At 10 a.m. a parade was held with 25 different floats furnished by local organizations and businesses. It started on Oklahoma Avenue, by what used to be the Houston Lumber Yard, then moved south on Oklahoma until it reached 5th Street, then headed east to Grand Avenue, continuing until it finished at the intersection of Grand and Washington.
The Reverend George Wood, superintendent of the West Oklahoma Home at Helena, delivered the address of that day in the park, followed by the Old Fiddler’s Contest.
At noon, unlike today’s hamburger cookout for the whole community, celebrants were to bring their own “well-filled baskets” to accommodate their families and have a picnic-type lunch at the city park.
After lunch they picked up with a Bathing Beauty Contest, where women 14 years or older would compete to be crowned the Queen of the Fourth of July Celebration and receive a cash prize of $25. There also was a swimming contest in different age groups between boys and girls.
The terrapin derby (today known as the turtle races), run by the American Legion, was held at 4 p.m. The community would bring their turtles and enter the contest for a “small fee” which then went back into the derby for the prizes to the winners.
At 5 p.m. they held a baseball game played by the two all-star teams picked from the Cherokee area.
Held at 8 p.m. was a wrestling match, open to the public, between Ray Miller, Pratt, Kansas and Elmo DeVora, Blue Island, Illinois.
As the tradition still stands, around 9 p.m. we as a community gather our blankets and lawn chairs to watch the firework show with our families.
In 1920, the Chamber of Commerce held the firework show at 9 p.m. known as “the Brilliant $500 fireworks display.”
In the 1940’s, Cherokee held off on their firework show due to what they called the “Invasion Year” because of World War II. They didn’t, however, feel that the celebration of the holiday should go completely unnoticed.
Celebrants were still allowed to purchase their own fireworks at the local drug stores such as Smith Drug and Keye’s Drug.
Starting the firework show back up in 1947 after the war, Cherokee continued through-out the years adding and trading different events, but always with the same spirit of patriotic celebration.