The late comedian Rodney Dangerfield used to say, “I don’t get no respect!”
Neither does the Fifth of July. By then, all of the hamburgers and hot dogs have been eaten, but not all of the beer will have been drunk, nor all of the fireworks shot off.
At least Gov. Larry Hogan showed the Fifth a bit of respect, giving state workers the day off.
Otherwise, nobody pays much attention to the Fifth of July. That’s too bad, because some important things happened on that day.
July 5, 2018, was a significant day in the lives of women who worked in retail shops in the southern India state of Kerala.
For the first time, they were allowed to sit while on the job. Let’s pause to consider the ramifications of that.
The British Broadcasting Corporation reported at the time that women in some stores weren’t allowed to sit even when there were no customers present, not even to take a toilet break on the premises if it involved sitting down.
They were allowed two five-minute toilet breaks each day, but the nearest toilet where they actually could sit was often a hundred meters away from the store. It was said that some women developed health problems because they couldn’t go to the toilet.
Shop owners told them that if they wanted to sit or use the toilet, they should do it at home.
It took the saleswomen of Kerala eight years to win the right to sit, and they got it a year ago today.
What else happened on July 5?
• The first tornado recorded in what is now the United States was observed in Essex County, Massachusetts, in 1643.
• In 1775, the Second Continental Congress adopted the Olive Branch Petition to send to England’s King George III. This was the colonists’ last attempt to stave off war with Great Britain in what would be the American Revolution. They pledged loyalty to England while asserting their rights as British citizens.
Colonists and British soldiers had begun shooting at each other at Lexington, Massachusetts, on April 19. To this day, no one knows who fired the first shot. King George refused to even receive the petition.
• In 1852, the fugitive slave and future abolitionist Frederick Douglass gave his “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?” speech to the Ladies’ Anti-Slavery Society in Rochester, New York.
He said, “This Fourth of July is yours, not mine, You may rejoice, I must mourn.”
Douglass said he lacked no respect for the Founding Fathers because they were great men and brave, but asked what meaning the Declaration of Independence could have for blacks who were suffering from inequality and injustice, particularly those who wore the chains of slavery.
He asked, “What have I, or those I represent, to do with your national independence? Are the great principles of political freedom and of natural justice, embodied in that Declaration of Independence, extended to us?”
That question is still being asked today.
• In 1865, Britain established the first speed limit. “Road locomotives” were limited to 4 mph in the country and 2 mph in the city. Any vehicle that hauled more than one wagon had to be preceded by a man carrying a red flag.
• In 1865, the U.S. Secret Service was established to fight counterfeiting. It wasn’t detailed to protect the president until after the assassination of President William McKinley in 1901.
• In 1935, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt signed the National Labor Relations Act, which “grants employees the right to form or join unions; engage in protected, concerted activities to address or improve working conditions; or refrain from engaging in these activities.”
• In 1937, the luncheon meat Spam was introduced by Hormel Foods. Spam in electronic form wouldn’t appear for another several decades.
• In 1942, future James Bond novel author Ian Fleming graduated from spy school in Canada.
• In 1945, the liberation of the Philippines from the Japanese Empire was declared. Gen. Douglas MacArthur said he would return, and he did.
• In 1947, Larry Doby became the first African-American player to take the field in the American League. He played for the Cleveland Indians.
• In 1950, American forces entered combat for the first time in the Korean War at Osan.
• In 1971, the 26th Amendment to the Constitution was formally certified by President Richard Nixon, lowering the voting age to 18. It had been ratified on July 1.
• In 1975, Arthur Ashe became the first African-American to win the Wimbledon tennis tournament, defeating Jimmy Connors.
• In 1989, the pilot episode of “Seinfeld” was screened on NBC television. It ran for nine years and was one of America’s most popular shows.
• In 1994, Amazon.com was formed by Jeff Bezos.
Happy Fifth of July!