National holidays often conjure up images of family gatherings, picnics and barbeques, jubilant children celebrating a day off from school, and newspaper advertisements of department store sales. Yet as historians and history teachers it is our task to remind our students that these are days of commemoration and remembrance, not simply days of celebration. In this issue of HISTORY NOW, a group of noted scholars provides a closer look at the origins and the significance of six of our major national holidays: Independence Day, Thanksgiving, Memorial Day, Veterans Day, Labor Day, and Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
David Waldstreicher shows us the way in which the commemoration of the Declaration of Independence served to instill patriotism and devotion to the republican experiment that was the United States in our nation's early generations. Catherine Clinton traces the origins of Thanksgiving in the post Civil War era and provides us with a closer look at the woman who spearheaded the movement to create what has become one of the most cherished American holidays. Kenneth Jackson examines the means by which Americans honor those who have fallen in defense of our country. Joshua Freeman reflects upon the meaning of Labor Day and the contributions of the American working class. Finally, Jim Horton explores the role of Martin Luther King, Jr. in the civil rights movement that changed our nation's history and moved us closer to our national goal of social equality and justice.
In these thoughtful essays, each scholar raises and answers critical questions about what these holidays commemorate and how they came to be designated as days of public recognition. But these essays do more; they point the way to how we, as educators, can use these holidays in the classroom to better explain crucial eras or movements in American history. As always, we have asked a group of skilled, experienced, and creative teachers to provide exemplary lesson plans at various grade levels. And, in this issue as in every issue, our librarian extraordinaire, Mary-Jo Kline, provides a guide to materials on the web and in the library that will help you create lessons of your own.
A happy Fourth of July to you all!
Editor, History Now