Tag Archives: parades

Listening to the Silent Parade of 1917: The Forgotten Civil Rights March

“To the beat of muffled drums 8,000 negro men, women and children marched down Fifth Avenue yesterday in a parade of ‘silent protest against acts of discrimination and oppression’ inflicted upon them in this country, and in other parts of the world. Without a shout or a cheer they made their cause known through the many banners which they carried, calling attention to Jim Crowism, segregation, disfranchisement, and riots of Waco, Memphis and East St. Louis.” — New York Times

The Silent Parade of July 28, 1917, was unlike anything ever seen in New York City. Today it is considered New York’s (and most likely America’s) first African-American civil rights march.

New York had seen its share of protest parades since the start of World War I, but none had featured so prominently the city’s African-American population, gathering in such impressive numbers along New York’s wealthiest street.

This extraordinary procession was organized by the burgeoning National Association of the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), a group of concerned black and white activists and intellectuals which had formed less than a decade earlier in New York.

The march was organized in direct response to a horrible plague of violence against black Americans in the 1910s, culminating in the East St. Louis Riots*, a massacre involving white mobs storming black neighborhoods in sheer racial animus. Two sets of riots in May and July 1917 left almost 200 people dead. Rioters burned black neighborhoods, cutting off water hoses and watched as families fled the burning buildings — to be picked off by gunmen.

From the St. Louis Post-Dispatch on July 3:

This massacre was but one of several violent incidents aimed at new black laborers, pointed attacks meant to strike fear in the hearts of black Americans.

The circumstances of World War I exacerbated an already volatile crisis. As W.E.B. DuBois would explain it,

The Negro, attracted by higher wages in the North and repelled by the menace of lynchinig and caste in the South moves in to fill the new labor demand [caused by the war].  The common laborer in the North is caught between the tyranny of exclusive trade unions and the underbidding of blacks. The rest is murder and riot and unrest…. White Northern laborers find killing Negroes a safe, lucrative employment which commends them to the American Federation of Labor.”

In New York, at a meeting of the NAACP in Harlem, president James Weldon Johnson (at the suggestion of New York Evening Post editor Oswald Villard) proposed an unusual but effective form of protest — an army of marchers along Fifth Avenue, drawing attention to the victims of the East St. Louis riot.

And in an unprecedented decision by the organizers, it would consist only of black marchers.

Underwood & Underwood

New York newspaper reports of the riot passively mentioned the tragic cost to the black residents of East St. Louis; a dramatic march down the city’s most prosperous street — comprised of those very people most likely to be victimized in such riots — would jar the delicate sensibilities of insulated New Yorkers.

This was a fairly radical idea for its time. Decades after the Civil War, most Americans, even in the most progressive states, still looked skeptically at organized black movements. Part of the NAACP’s early legitimacy for many was that it was formed by a mixture of black and white activists.

In 1915, the NAACP (in a crusade led by newspaper editor William Monroe Trotter) protested the release of the film Birth of a Nation, the trailblazing film that positively depicted the Ku Klux Klan while demonizing African-Americans. The protests failed to stop the film’s release but this organized resistance galvanized the NAACP and the black community for future battles.

While the East St. Louis tragedy was the focus of the mournful July 28th gathering, the march was intended as a larger protest against civil rights abuses in the United States. One of many flyers passed around during the march declared :

We march because we are thoroughly opposed to Jim Crow cars, segregation, disenfranchisement and the host of evils that are forced upon us. We march in memory of our butchered dead, the massacre of honest toilers who were removing the reproach of laziness and thriftlessness hurled at the entire race. They died to prove our worthiness to live. We live in spite of death shadowing us and ours.” 

Below: The organizers marched in front of the women and children. At far right are  W.E.B. Du Bois and James Weldon Johnson.

Underwood and Underwood

The thousands of people who marched that day came from virtually every African-American church in New York City and the surrounding area. A drum corps and a troupe of black Boy Scouts vibrantly led the parade, with women and children following behind, garbed in white dresses.

The men, some in United States army uniforms, marched last behind a row of flag bearers, holding representative flags from the United States, Great Britain, Liberia and Haiti.

New York Tribune

There were no chants or rallying cries. The throng remained silent during the length of the parade, a common practice for peace parades but one pregnant with meaning here. The black communities in East St. Louis and in the South had little opportunity to engage in such protests. New Yorkers, in solidarity, would echo that reverberating silence. (It may also have been prudent for large groups of African-Americans marching along the city’s whitest street to keep themselves calcified.)

The marchers were orderly and stone-faced as they walked down Fifth Avenue — from 57th Street to 24th Street, culminating at Madison Square Park.  They were not allowed to gather there; according to the New York Sun, “When the marchers reached Twenty-Fourth Street, they turned west and were dismissed.”

While there were no chants, political intentions were made known via a series of banners interspersed among the marchers:

‘Your Hands Are Full of Blood’

‘Pray for the Lady Macbeths of East St. Louis’**

‘We Are Maligned as Lazy and Murdered When We Work’

‘From  Bunker Hill to Carrizal*** We Have Done Our Duty’

One ‘controversial’ sign was thrown out of the march. According to the Times, the sign “displayed a picture of a negro woman kneeling before President Wilson and appealing to him to bring democracy to America before carrying it to Europe.” The police intervened, and the sign was removed.

Below: A newspaper illustration that was most certainly used in the offending sign

No other incidents surrounding the march were reported that day. Thousands of onlookers had lined the parade route that day out of curiosity, amusement, pride, anger and joy. Some were shaken to the core.

“[T]he streets of New York have witnessed many strange sites, but I judge, never one stranger than this; among the watchers were those with tears in their eyes.” — James Weldon Johnson, The Autobiography of James Weldon Johnson, 1937

 

 

NOTE: The number of marchers so widely varies from source to source that I can safely say that it was between 5,000 and 15,000 marchers. Not exactly precise! Judging from all reports, I would guess the actual number is closer to 15,000.

*East St. Louis, on the Illinois side, is about 15 miles away from Ferguson, the St. Louis suburb on the Missouri side.

**According to author Nikki Brown, the ‘Lady Macbeth’ sign references “an alleged incident wherein at least two white women pulled black women off a streetcar, tore off one woman’s clothing and ‘then took off her shoes and beat her over the face and head with their shoe heels’.”

***The Battle of Carrizal had been fought in Mexico a year before the march. Unlike the battles in Europe, African-American soldiers served with American units on the front lines of this engagement.

 

Suffragettes on Parade! In 1915, thousands march for right to vote

For once, the biggest news story in America one hundred years ago today was not about the war waging in Europe.

On October 23, 1915, the forces of the women’s suffrage movement mobilized to create the most ambitious gathering to date, a parade of thousands to force the issue into the consciousness of New Yorkers and American at large. 

Here are some clips from newspaper articles of the day, celebrating their efforts, chastising and trivializing in part, but recognizing that a corner had been turned and that the right to vote for American women was now an inevitable (if not immediate) outcome:

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“The latest, biggest and most enthusiastic of suffrage parades, and the one which, according to the leaders of the suffrage forces, will be the last ever needed to plead their cause in New York, marched up Fifth Avenue from Washington Square to Fifth-Ninth Street yesterday afternoon, blazoned the whole city with the yellow of its banners, and brought out what seemed to be the larger part of the population of Manhattan to look at them.”
New York Times, October 24, 1915

“It was a three mile argument for equal rights — a dignified, splendid argument — and every vantage point along the gay colored way was covered with men and women who saw its force.  Through the chill of a windy afternoon, though the sun shone on the mighty host, the great army of women passed, the white costumes of many glittering in the sunlight, defying the cold wind that the onlookers felt to their spines as they stood to see it all.”
New York  Sun, October 24, 1915

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“Some whose names are to be found all through the Social Register marched side by side with working mothers with babies in their arms.  A large proportion of the marchers were young girls who would not be old enough to vote were they enfranchised.  They made up in beauty what they lacked in years and were cheered all along the crowded Fifth Avenue sidewalks.”
New York Evening World, Late Edition, October 23

“Old women, as old as suffrage, marched. Often beside them were little girls barely in their teens. And there were even tiny babies in carts, making their appeal for their mothers’ votes.

There was little applause all along the route for the women marchers.  But this was not strange, for it could be seen that the spirit of the parade had made itself felt on the sidewalks. It was no laughing matter, this parade.  The women in it did not smile or giggle.  They were serious and determined. And this mental characteristic was contagious.”
New York Tribune, October 24

 

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Above: Four women carrying ballot boxes on a stretcher 

“Is Dame Nature a suffragist? At any rate, she was kind yesterday. In golden sunlight and keen air the great parade went its triumphal way, to the satisfaction of participants and spectators. With no disrespect to the men in it, the female marchers and riders, as always, showed the hopeless feminine superiority in grace, decorative effect, art of representation.”
editorial, New York Times, October 24

“The spectators laughed in good natured sympathy with the struggles which the wind caused the marchers.  Unruly skirts demanded attention from those who bore the militantly inscribed banners.  Nearly all the flag carriers had to call for help upon heir companions and sometimes four or five women struggled with brave laughter with a single standard to keep it from being swept to the street.”  — NY Evening World

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“[S]igns were a cardinal feature of the parade. One which attracted attention everywhere and appealed significantly to the male onlookers was, “We talk with you, we eat with you, we dance with you, we marry you, why can’t we vote with you?” Another read: “Oh, men, please do give us the vote.” — NY Tribune

“King Albert of Belgium favors votes for women,” “Australian women have the ballot,” “Queensland women vote,” “Bohemia was the first in the world to pass a law for women’s suffrage in 1861,” “Oestreichischer Komite fur Frauenstremrecht” were some of the inscriptions on the banners. In all the languages of the earth they proclaimed the advance women have made in the various countries in gaining the vote, and scattered through the division were banners asking: “Women vote in Australia, why not in New York?” and “Women vote in twelve Western States, why not in New York?” — NY Sun

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“It was a long parade — begun in mid-afternoon and finished by moonlight. And while thousands had drifted away, the avenue was still packed with onlookers when the men’s brigade — some thousands this time in place of the valorous ninety-two who were jeered in the first parade only four years ago — came along just in front of the army of automobiles that ended the procession.” – NYT

“The parade ended with a concert of thirty bands and a giant chorus singing patriotic songs at the Central Park Plaza.  There were several battalions of men in sympathy with the cause which were noisily greeted by the people along the curb.” — Evening World

Graphic from the New York Times, October 24

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Margaret Vale, niece of President Woodrow Wilson, at the Suffrage parade. Alaska had granted women the right to vote in 1913.

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The appearance of Mayor John Purroy Mitchel (‘the boy mayor of New York‘) was considered a big boost for the marchers although it certainly would have been a major snub if the mayor has skipped such a major parade!

mayor

Absent from all of the news coverage (at least the articles I reviewed) was the participation of African-American suffrage advocates.  They played an active role in the movement but were most likely absent from the parade.

Despite this grand parade, New Yorkers defeated a referendum on suffrage the following month.  A little over two years later — on November 6, 1917 — the women of New York state would win the right to vote.   The Nineteenth Amendment, ensuring the vote for all American women, was ratified on August 18, 1920.

All photographs on this page courtesy Library of Congress

On this Veteran’s Day, a salute to the Harlem Hellfighters!

The men of the 369th who were awarded France’s Criox de Guerre for distinguished acts of heroism:  Pvt. Ed Williams, Herbert Taylor, Pvt. Leon Fraitor, Pvt. Ralph Hawkins. Back Row: Sgt. H. D. Prinas, Sgt. Dan Strorms, Pvt. Joe Williams, Pvt. Alfred Hanley, and Cpl. T. W. Taylor

New York’s 369th Infantry Regiment was America’s first African-American regiment engaged in World War I.  While many white American soldiers would have been happy to serve next to trained regiments of any color, intense racial prejudice in the United States forced many who signed up to fight for their country to instead be assigned to the French army.

Nicknamed the Harlem Hellfighters, the regiment served alongside the French during the summer and fall of 1918.  Perhaps the most famous soldier of the 369th was Private Henry Lincoln Johnson (at right) whose deadly efficiency on the battlefield earned him the grim nickname Black Death.  He became the first of dozens from the 369th to receive the prestigious Criox de Guerre, the equivalent of the American Medal of Honor.

They returned to New York in February 1919 and marched through the streets of Manhattan on February 17 — from Greenwich Village to Harlem, in triumph.

From the New York Times the following day:

New York’s negro soldiers, bringing with them from France one of the bravest records achieved by any organization in the war, marched amidst waving flags and cheering crowds yesterday from Twenty-third Street and Fifth Avenue to 145th Street and Lenox Avenue.”

“At Thirty-Fourth Street the men marched under a shower of cigarettes and candy, and such tokens were pitched at them at other points in the line, but the files did not waver for an instant.

The men of the 369th photographed as they arrive back in New York City, 1919

From original caption (courtesy US National Archies):  “[The] 369th New York City Infantry (old 15th) [African American] troops and some of the 370th Infantry, Illinois [African American] troops, one of the most decorated regiments in the United States Army return to New York City. They saw [the] longest service of any American regiment as part of a foreign army, and had less training than any before going into action. They were never in an American division or brigade always being with the French.”

The 369th marching up Fifth Avenue.

The men are shown here in this assortment of newsreel footage from the war:

Pictures from the U.S. National Archives

The Women’s Peace Parade, a moody anti-war protest in 1914

Give Peace A Chance: Women take to the streets in a stunning parade of mourning

Below are some pictures of what’s possibly New York City’s first anti-war protest organized by women, on August 29, 1914.

War had erupted that summer in Europe, sparked by the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand in late June and unfurling into a continent-wide catastrophe, as countries entered the fray on either side of the conflict.  Within weeks of the conflict, New Yorkers with strong ties to individual nations were raising money and even boarding ships to fight alongside their distant countrymen.

In other cities with sizable European populations — such as Montreal — people were already marching, calling for an end to the conflict.  And leading this call were women already involved in social organizations, in particular, suffragists with networks that reached into high society.

Protesting war has been a touchy issue in New York City. [See the Civil War Draft Riots for such a protest gone wrong.]  The mayor had expressly forbade parades in support of individual nations on New York streets lest a microscopic version of the European conflict erupt here.  Anti-war was often associated with socialist organizations and indeed, that August, several did march in Union Square.  But these were comprised largely of men.

Which makes the Women’s Peace Parade so unusual.  Prominent women met at the Hotel McAlpin in mid-August to plan what was essentially a mourning parade, with its participants — from all walks of life — dressed in black as though in a funeral procession. (As you can see in the pictures, many women also chose to wear white in a symbol of peacetime, garnished with black accessories.)

Many people didn’t quite understand what a peace protest even meant, seeing it as a wasted effort. One letter writer to the New York Times asked. “Will any of the women who intend to parade in protest of the war explain what they mean to accomplish by such a demonstration?”

While the parade drew from prominent individuals in the suffrage movement, others were simply not convinced.  Carrie Chapman Catt, one of America’s most famous suffragists, remarked, “If anybody thinks that a thousand, or a million, women marching through New York or talking about peace in the abstract will have any effect on the situation in Europe, it is because they don’t know the situation in Europe.”

But, in fact, there was a motivation.  One of New York’s leading activists Harriet Stanton Blanch — daughter of Elizabeth Cady Stanton — was very succinct about their motivation. “This is a movement for actual work. We intend to do something definite. We wish to have a meeting at The Hague Peace Conference called.”

The parade began in the afternoon, marching down Fifth Avenue from 58th Street down to Union Square. Women who either lived or shopped along the avenue now marched in formal procession down it, accompanied by the “ominous beat of muffled drums.”  There was occasional applause but otherwise “the general silence of the great gathering was considered the best evidence of understanding.” [source]

Among the marchers were Lillian Wald and the nurses of Henry Street Settlement.
The skies were appropriately gray.  Some participants hoped for rain actually.  “Every woman in the slow-moving line wore some badge of mourning, either a band of black around her sleeve or a bit of crepe fluttering at her breast, as a token of the black death which is hovering over the European battlefields.” [source]

The parade marshal was the young Portia Willis, a magnetic lecturer on the suffragist circuit. .

While the organizers announced there was to be only one flag on display in the parade — the flag for peace — one other crept into the proceedings.  “The smallest Boy Scout was Alfred Greenwald, 4 years old, who … attracted much attention.  Little Alfred unknowingly broke the most stringent rule of the parade by carrying a flag.  He carried a United States flag but it was furled.” [source]

Unfortunately I was not able to locate any pictures of the second half of the parade — with 250 African-American women in solidarity, followed by “a number of Indian and Chinese women” and carloads of elderly women and babies.

Those who witnessed the parade would not soon forget it, especially in the following months as the conflict that would become known as World War I grew to eventually encompass the United States.

Dueling ‘perfect babies’ in Brooklyn and Manhattan, pageantry in support of healthy infants in New York

The exaltation of fat, plucky babies via beauty contests stems from a rather grim origin — American infant mortality rates of the 19th century.  During the 1880s, as swelling immigrants and overcrowding in New York created harbors for disease and malnourishment, over one in five infants would die in America, with higher occurrence among poor or minority populations.

Although people have always adored looking at cute babies, the criteria for a ‘perfect baby’ in 1913 involved body form, fat and general disposition.  Baby pageants were a common place feature in Coney Island parades, with stunned and perplexed infants laid in small floats and pulled along the avenue to great acclaim.  (This second place winner from a 1923 parade doesn’t look too pleased.)

Below: Annoyed babies on display in a June 1914 Grand Automobile Baby Parade.  (This is obviously a photo montage, and, by the way, the original caption for it is super depressing. Read it here if you want.)

In 1913, with New York City relishing the results of two decades of City Beautiful architecture, so too did they honor the beauty of their offspring.  It even offered an opportunity to rekindle the famous Manhattan-Brooklyn rivalry that so made the Consolidation of 1898 so contentious, when, on April 17, 1913, the New York World declared that the winner of a Manhattan Perfect Baby contest had been challenged by a Brooklyn tot.

Young nine-month-old Joseph Keller (at right), residing with his German-Irish family at West 136th Street in Manhattan, won a contest held by a local public school, in a culmination of the city’s Better Babies Week, an effort by public health advocates to promote infant health, providing ‘milk stations’ and doctor consultations throughout the city.

The unabashed celebration of gorgeous children — with a mind towards public education — electrified the city.  The program was such a success that it was greatly expanded the following year.  “Baby week has done to New York’s attitude towards babies what a large, active firecracker placed under the chair of a dozing grandfather might be expected to do,” said one journal in 1914.

Keller was chosen from dozens of babies whose mothers showed up at a milk station during Better Babies festivities. Babies were evaluated based on precise guidelines, almost as one judges an animal at the Westminster Dog Show.

According to the New York Times, the scorecard used to judge Keller and the other babies in 1913 included the following criteria:  height, weight, circumference of chest, circumference of abdomen, symmetry, quality of skin and fat, quality of muscles, bones, length of head, shape and size of lips, shape and potency of nose, disposition, energy and attention.

Another article makes note, to the detriment of Mr. Keller, that “it was not the prettiest baby that got the prize” but rather one with the healthiest and most ideal physique.

But the mother of Bernard Lipschitz, of 1526 Eastern Parkway in Brooklyn, begged to differ.  “In Brooklyn, there are babies that can equal if not excel the record set by the prize winner Joseph Keller,” she said to the Evening World in an article on April 17, 1913.

“He certainly looks like a prize winner!” the Evening World remarked of Lipschitz, regaling his superior qualifications.  In every aesthetic but one, baby Lipschitz was the superior candidate, with Keller’s only saving grace being his number of teeth — 6 to Bernard’s 2 . “Let Joseph hug that consolation to his soul.” [source]

And now, one hundred years later, what say you — Joseph vs. Bernard?

Below: From the 1914 baby drive, heavily supported by new mayor John Purroy Mitchel.

Pictures courtesy New York Public Library, except for images of Joseph and Bernard.

How New York City celebrated the FIRST London Olympics

Crowds gather around the steps of New York City Hall to welcome the procession of American Olympic athletes returning from the 1908 games in London. Pictures courtesy Library of Congress.


OLYMPICS ROUNDUP London has hosted the Olympics four times, New York City zero.  The city tried for the current games in an ultimately unsuccessful bid back in 2005. A great many New Yorkers are quite happy to be without an international sporting event in the city. Personally, I would have loved to have seen New York become even more international for a few weeks, although I’m relieved that plans for that monstrous Olympic Village in Queens were never realized.

Outside of that, the closest the city has ever gotten to the Olympics is a little under 300 miles — the distance from New York to Lake Placid, which hosted the 1980 Winter Olympics. Those games featured the now-storied ‘Miracle on Ice‘ match between the USA and the USSR. But did you know that the Russian team completely iced the US team just a few days earlier in an exhibition game played at Madison Square Garden? You can read more about that in my article ‘No Miracle on Ice’ from February 2010.

Although we’ve never hosted the Games, when it comes to events before and after the Olympics, New York City’s all over them. Randall’s Island has hosted several Olympic trials, including one of the most famous at all, the track and field events from 1936 which produced sports legend Jesse Owens. You can hear all about it in my 2008 podcast on the history of Randall’s Island and the 1936 Olympic Trials. [Here’s the blog post or you can download it directly from here.]

Around the same time, Robert Moses commissioned Astoria Pool with the explicit purpose of hosting Olympic swimming trials. That 1936 event, featuring its dramatic diving platform, produced several American gold medalists. You can read more about Astoria Pool in an article from just a few months ago — Nostalgia for Astoria Pool

Of course, a great many New Yorkers were entirely unhappy with any participation in the 1936 Olympic Games, given that they were being held that year in Berlin, in the heart of Nazi Germany. A concerted effort by politicians (including Fiorello LaGuardia), religious leaders and athletes to boycott the games was met with defeat, but in the summer of 1936, a group of Jewish athletes competed in a ‘counter-Olympics’. For more information, check out the blog post Boycott the Olympic Games!

And finally, here are some pictures of the 1908 Olympic athletes reception ceremonies, held in New York on the team’s return in August from London’s very first Olympic Games..

And finally, here’s a swell photograph — no other adjective to describe it — of the U.S. Olympic team from 1908, posing with President Theodore Roosevelt a week after the New York festivities. Is it just me or does it look like half the team is comprised of middle-aged bankers?

The most successful American at the 1908 games was New Jersey track-and-field dynamo Mel Sheppard, pictured below as he crossed the finish line for a gold medal in the 1500-meter. Take note of the man in the top hat on the side of the track.

100 Years Ago: Women still can’t vote, but they can march

All The Single Ladies: though I believe the women above are actually garbed for a suffrage march in 1912, I just couldn’t resist this photo (Courtesy LOC, click pic for detail)

It seems so bizarre now that it feels funny writing it — one hundred years ago, women didn’t have the right to vote in this country. Actually it’s worse than that –it wasn’t until 1920 that the 19th Amendment was ratified — but the 100-year mark is significant as it marks the first significant public march devoted to suffrage in New York City.

New York state is of course the epicenter for the women’s rights movement in the 19th Century. Liberty Party presidential candidate Gerrit Smith gave a heralded speech in Buffalo in 1848 urging “universal suffrage.” The convention in the small town of Seneca Fall, NY, later that year united the country’s great civil rights and proto-feminist leaders for a bevy of women’s causes. Susan B Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton both lived in New York City at one time, and the National American Woman Suffrage Association formed here in 1900 with Carrie Chapman Catt as president.

But the tipping point for suffrage seems to have begun in 1910 at the peak of a so-called ‘suffrage renaissance’, nationally with the first state referendums (yes to suffrage in Washington, no in Oregan, California would pass it in 1912, Ohio would defeat it) and locally with the first large-scale women’s suffrage march through the streets of Manhattan on May 21, 1910.*

Like later social causes, early suffrage organizations tended to be passionate, but fragmented. The May 21st march was actually organized by the newer Women’s Political Union (formerly called the Equality League of Self Supporting Women!), but its participants drew from a wide range of supporters — activists, working women, socialites, students.

Led by Union president Harriot Stanton Blatch, the daughter of Elizabeth Cady Stanton, the parade of almost 400 women might have been dwarfed by other processions, but the sight of such a large cluster of loud, boistrous (and unaccompanied!) women, many of great wealth, wearing ‘Votes For Women’ sashes, riding in automobiles or holding banners such as “New York State Denies the Vote to Idiots, Lunatics, Criminals, and Women” and all of them dressed in white — all of this clearly piqued the curiousity of New Yorkers.

The modest 1910 march did the trick, leading, according to the Library of Congress, to much larger processions down Fifth Avenue on May 1911 (3,000 marchers), May 1912 (10,000 marchers) and November 1912 (20,000 marchers).

Parades were even more powerful 100 years ago at catapulting your cause into the mainstream. According to journalism professor Linda Lumsden, “Women’s public agitation for the vote–in the form of parades, pageants, and pickets–helped them elevate their cause to a national level.”

Within seven years, in 1917 New York state would grant women the right to vote. The country would ratify the new amendment to the Constitution three years later, in time for the presidential election of Warren G. Harding.

*It appears that minor suffrage marches — mostly activists, relegated to less than 100 marchers — occurred in 1908 and possibly even 1905. Of course much larger worker’s rights marches would sometimes include people marching for the suffrage cause as well.

Labor Day vs May Day: or why New Yorkers love a parade

A banner celebration: loading up with signs for the 1908 Labor Day Parade in New York

Labor Day is one of the few national holidays that New York City can lay claim to as their own. The roots of the U.S. holiday began here, with Union Square as its centerpiece, in 1882.

But in fact, New Yorkers borrowed the idea of Labor Day from Canada. Young Peter McGuire, educated at Cooper Union where he met labor activists like Samuel Gompers, was already making a name for himself as an advocate for workers rights as early at 1873, leading sit-ins at City Hall and heading a rally at Tompkins Square Park that was promptly broken up by police.

Workers in Canada were already marching annually by the 1870s. McGuire was invited to speak at one of these events in 1882 and decided to organize a similar event in New York. It’s doubtful that his was the only voice in organizing such a massive spectacle; Matthew Maguire, from Patterson, NJ, and secretary of the New York Central Labor Union, is also said to have proposed the date. Given their deep involvement with the CLU, it’s safe to consider both men (with such similar names!) as originator of the soon-to-be federal holiday.

That September 5 (a Tuesday, incidentally) anywhere from 10,000 to 25,000 participants marched from City Hall to Union Square and eventually on to 42nd Street. Matthew Maguire led the parade in a carraige he share with none other than Henry Ward Beecher. After the parade, the celebration continued with a massive picnic at Wendel’s Elm Park (at 92nd Street and 9th Avenue).

Below: Two of the earliest photos ever taken of a Labor Day celebration, this one from Union Square stands of a 1887 celebration, five years after the first. (Photo courtesy NYPL)

The celebration spread to other cities over the coming years, and by 1894, it was declared a national holiday.

However Labor Day isn’t the only day that workers and labor organizations have rallied and protested in New York. In fact, I would hardly even say it’s the primary day of protest. That would of course by May Day which is still recognized internationally as a day of protest. Unlike Labor Day, May Day actually originated in the United States. In the late 19th and early 20th century, New York workers frequently organized May Day parades, demanding more reasonable working hours, better wages and safer working conditions. The first of these parades debuted across the country in 1886.

Today in New York, the area around Union Square often sees general protests on the first of May, but Labor Day has virtually lost its meaning. In fact, it’s better recognized today as the day of the festive West Indian-American Day Parade.

Below: The first is taken from a May Day celebration in 1909, over a hundred years ago. The second picture is taken from the Labor Day parade that very same year

For more information, check out our podcast on the history of Union Square.

1969: Astronauts land in New York!

Below: two pictures of the ticker-tape parade thrown in New York City on August 13, 1969 to celebrate Apollo 11 astronauts Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins and their successful landing on the moon.

Believe it or not, this was the second space-themed ticker-tape parade that year. In January, Frank Borman, James A. Lovell, and William A. Anders, were honored in similar grandiose fasion for their Apollo 8 mission.

How special was that year, 1969? The third and final ticker-tape parade that year would be in honor of the New York Mets, winner of their very first World’s Series.

Cick here for more information on some other famous ticker-tape parades.

Pics courtesy Life

Earth Day 1970: New York shares a clean, groovy vision

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Above: Throngs enjoy a cleaner world by cramming themselves on Fifth Avenue during the city’s very first Earth Day celebration

This article originally ran on April 22, 2009

Mayor John Lindsay pulled out all the stops for the first official Earth Day on April 22, 1970, with such a show that one could be mistaken in the belief that the holiday was created here. (It was officially sanctioned in San Francisco the year before.)

In honor of the inaugural environmental holiday, Lindsay authorized Fifth Avenue closed for two hours, the streets filled with thousands of celebrants and protesters. The event culminated in Union Square, where the mayor — along with actors like Paul Newman and Ali McGraw — spoke to encouraging crowds about a cleaner city. Fourteenth Street between 3rd and 7th avenues was also shut down for an ‘ecological carnival’, which might not sound as fun as a real carnival. Except this was 1970, afterall.

Was Lindsay (left) before his time in his passion for pollution? Maybe. More likely, his constituents were. By 1970 the mayor attempted to bring a true sensibility of the bohemian to the city, allowing ‘be-ins’ in Central Park and promoting a virtue of ‘Fun City’, “a phrase that embodied the hope of New Yorkers for a more livable city,” according to biographer Vincent Cannato. In fact, Earth Day was modeled after the Vietnam-era ‘teach-in’, essentially an educational outreach mixed with a smidgen of good times.

Lindsay: “…the city is contributing a billion dollars over the next ten years to mass transit construction. And then more, more and more we are discouraging automobile use in the central business areas, particularly.” (Look here for the rest of the interview with Lindsay in Union Square talking to NBC about the first Earth Day.)

“If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the pollution,” added governor Nelson Rockefeller in a speech to the crowds.

The massive rally, with a 100,000 in attendance, reportedly left little pollution in its wake (although that seems a tad revisionist to me). Crowds occasionally attacked gas-guzzling, pollutant-making cars as they went by, and one group of demonstrators curiously dragged around a net filled with rotting fish, shouting “This could be you!”

Lindsay would later close Fifth Avenue to traffic for several weekends that summer. Further paralleling his predecessor, Bloomberg followed suit last year with a vehicle-free Park Avenue.

Below: Like clean, little Whyos, this gang of adorable, broom-wielding Union Square scalawags prepare to attack the city’s grime

Courtesy AP
Courtesy AP

By the way, click here for a list of all today’s Earth Day festivities