The Daily Agenda for Friday, July 4
July 4th, 2014
“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. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.”
Perhaps the most famous words written in America, the Declaration of Independence has inspired fights for liberty since its signing in 1776. A decade later, delegates from those thirteen original colonies would gather again for the purposing of forming “a more perfect union.” Not a perfect union, but something at bit closer to that goal. We’ve been striving toward that goal ever since then.
Pride Celebrations This Weekend: Budapest, Hungary; Bristol, UK; Chelmsford, UK; Cologne, Germany; Lethbridge, AB; Madrid, Spain; Prince George, BC; Sundsvall, Sweden; Surrey, BC; Victoria, BC.
TODAY’S AGENDA is brought to you by:
Washington D.C.’s Chesapeake House was one of the more notorious bars. Opened in 1975, it was the first to feature nude male dancers. One of those dancers, a sixteen-year-old hustler who got his job with a fake I.D., was picked up by Congressman Robert Bauman (R-MD), whose subsequent arrest led to his ouster by voters a month later (see Oct 3). The Chesapeake House was the last of the 9th street clubs to close in 1992 when the block was razed to make way for a high rise office building.
TODAY IN HISTORY:
► Walt Whitman Publishes “Leaves of Grass”: 1855. The first edition of Leaves of Grass was a modest affair: self-published (he did much of the typesetting himself), consisting of only twelve unnamed poems in 95 pages (he wanted the book to be small enough to carry in a pocket), and only 800 copies. Whitman’s name appeared nowhere in the volume, just an engraving showing him in work clothes and a hat. The book’s title was a pun: “leaves” were the name publishers used for the pages of a book, and “grass” was a term given by publishers for minor, quickly forgotten works that they nevertheless relied on to pay the bills.
But Whitman’s book was not destined to be consigned to insignificance. He lost his job as a clerk at the Bureau of Indian Affairs after Interior Secretary James Harlan found a copy on Whitman’s desk. “I will not have the author of that book in this Department”, he said, and threatened to resign if the President were to order Whitman’s reinstatement. Critic Rufus Wilmot Griswold reviewed Leaves of Grass for The Criterion, writing, “It is impossible to image how any man’s fancy could have conceived such a mass of stupid filth.” Griswold charged Whitman of “the vilest imaginings and shamefullest license” and “degrading, beastly sensuality.” He also switched to Latin to accuse Whitman of “that horrible sin, among Christians not to be named.” Whitman would defiantly include that review in a later edition.
Whitman wrote Leaves of Grass partly in response to an 1844 essay by Ralph Waldo Emerson, who recognized a need for a distinctly American poet to write about the new nation’s qualities. “I was simmering, simmering, simmering; Emerson brought me to a boil,” Whitman said. He sent Emerson a copy of Leaves of Grass, who wrote back with effusive praise. “I find it the most extraordinary piece of wit and wisdom American has yet contributed,” he wrote. “I am very happy in reading it, as great power makes us happy.” Encouraged, Whitman immediately set about greatly expanding Leaves of Grass for a second edition, which was published the following year.
The expanded version now came in at 384 pages and sold for a dollar. Subsequent editions followed, each different from before. His fourth edition in 1867 was supposed to the last one of his “unkillable work!” But no, the work arose again for another three or five more editions, depending on how you count them. When Whitman was preparing the 1882 edition, a Boston district attorney threatened to prosecute thelocal publisher for obscenity unless Whitman removed two poems and altered ten others, including “Song of Myself,” and “I Sing the Body Electric.” Whitman refused and found a new publisher. When that edition came out, several prominent booksellers and department stores refused to carry it. But the controversy drove increased sales, and the first printing sold out on its first day. That edition then went on through four more printings.
Whitman completed his final edition in 1891. It became known as his “deathbed edition. “L. of G. at last complete — after 33 y’rs of hackling at it, all times & moods of my life, fair weather & foul, all parts of the land, and peace & war, young & old”. It was published in 1892, and the edition had grown to include more than 400 poems. Two months before Whitman died, the New York Herald published an announcement declaring the 1892 edition the definitive one:
Walt Whitman wishes respectfully to notify the public that the book Leaves of Grass, which he has been working on at great intervals and partially issued for the past thirty-five or forty years, is now completed, so to call it, and he would like this new 1892 edition to absolutely supersede all previous ones. Faulty as it is, he decides it as by far his special and entire self-chosen poetic utterance.
The full first edition is available online at the Walt Whitman Archive.
► “Annual Reminder” Pickets at Philadelphia’s Independence Hall: 1965-1969. The Fourth of July commemorates the day in which a group of second class citizens decided that it was finally time to not only declare their independence, but also their dignity for having been created equal and endowed with the rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Of course, not all Americans gained their freedom on that date in 1776. Instead, that marked the starting point for a long struggle, one which nearly destroyed the union almost a century later, and one which continues today. The 1960s will be long remembered as an important era in that struggle as racial barriers began to fall across the nation. But barriers against gay people held fast. In 1965, gay people were prohibited from holding jobs with the federal government by an Executive Order, homosexuality was illegal in every state in the country except Illinois, and gay people were regarded as mentally ill by the American Psychiatric Association.
To protest those conditions, LGBT activists, under the collective name of the East Coast Homophile Organizations (ECHO), met at Philadelphia’s Independence Hall on July 4, 1965 for a demonstration to remind their fellow Americans that LGBT people did not enjoy some of the most fundamental of civil rights. Forty-four activists, including Frank Kameny, Barbara Gittings, and Kay Tobin, picketed in front of Philadelphia’s potent symbol of freedom, carrying signs reading “15 million homosexual Americans as for equality, opportunity, dignity,” and “homosexuals should be judged as individuals.”
Craig Rodwell, a member of New York’s Mattachine Society and owner of the first gay bookstore in the United States (see Nov 24), is credited for coming up with the idea. He envisioned the protest morphing into a kind of a gay holiday. “We can call it the Annual Reminder — the reminder that a group of Americans still don’t have their basic rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” Kay Lahusen (see Jan 5) described the picketing in the Daughters of Bilitis’ magazine The Ladder:
“We are not,” asserted one picketer, “wild-eyed, dungareed radicals throwing ourselves beneath the wheels of police vans that have come to cart us away from a sit-in at the Blue Room of the White House.” The firm rules followed by homosexual picketers are, in part: “Picketing is not an occasion for an assertion of personality, individuality, ego, rebellion, generalized non-conformity or anti-conformity. …Therefore the individual picketer serves merely to carry a sign or to increase the size of the demonstration; not he, but his sign should attract notice. …Dress and appearance will be conservative and conventional.” And so they have been. Women wear dresses; men wear business suits, white shirts and ties.
…”I didn’t know you people had problems like these.” exclaimed one man after reading the leaflet. His response gratified the key expectation of every picketer. A front-page mention of the demonstration in the Philadelphia Inquirer and coverage on local CBS-TV possibly multiplied his comment a thousandfold. Picketing had drawn public attention to long-hidden injustices.
This dignified protest, which startled many a citizen into fresh thought about the meaning of Independence Day, might well have been applauded by our Founding Fathers, who were intent on making America safe for the differences.
East Coast activists had already staged several pickets in 1965 before descending on the City of Brotherly Love. The first was in 1964, when a small band of activists protested in front of a New York City army induction center (see Sep 19). That action was followed with pickets in front of the White House (see Apr 17, May 29), the Civil Service Commission (see Jun 26), and the United Nations in New York City (see Apr 18). But it was the Philadelphia protests which proved to be the most enduring. Dubbed the “Annual Reminder,” the picketers returned to Independence hall every year for the next four years.
But with 1969’s Stonewall rebellion, the gay community gained an independence day all of their own. The “Annual Reminder” for 1969, occurring just a few days after that declaration of freedom on Christopher Street in New York, would be the last. In 1970, organizers decided to end the July 4 pickets in favor of the Christopher Street Liberation Day celebration on June 28 to commemorate the first anniversary of the rebellion. We’ve been celebrating Pride as a commemoration of our declaration of independence ever since. But the Annual Reminder hasn’t been forgotten. In 2005, the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission erected the first historical marker to recognize and celebrate LGBT history to commemorate those early protests in front of Independence Hall.
You can see a short film shot by gay rights activist Lilli Vincenz in 1968 of the Annual Reminder march for that year here.
[Additional sources: “Kay Tobin” (Kay Lahusen). “Picketing: the impact and the issues.” The Ladder 9, no. 12 (September 1965): 4-8.
Simon Hall. “The American gay rights movement and patriotic protest.” Journal of the History of Sexuality 19, no. 3 (September 2010): 536-562.]
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And feel free to consider this your open thread for the day. What’s happening in your world?