Monday, Jul 16, 2012
On July 2, 1776, John Adams famously said that American independence would be celebrated well into the future “with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires and illuminations.”
Since 1776, the symbolic grounds around Independence Hall have witnessed revolutions, rallies and protests, many of which took place on the Fourth of July. From Frederick Douglass in 1844 to Susan B. Anthony in 1876 to the Avenging the Ancestors Coalition more recently, individuals and groups have used the power of this iconic place - and the power of this date - to make their point.
Freedom Week 2012 was a celebration of that tradition. Peter Nero and the Philly Pops rang in the holiday with another spectacular performance in front of Independence Hall on the evening of July 3rd that was attended by thousands of visitors. This annual event is fast becoming the most popular Freedom Week event within the park.
The following morning, the City of Philadelphia joined the park in hosting the Celebration of Freedom ceremony and the Fourth of July parade. Superintendent Cyndy MacLeod reminded visitors of the many pivotal anniversaries celebrated this year – the 225th of the Constitution, the 200th of the War of 1812, and the 150th of the Civil War. She then introduced special guest actress Ellen Burstyn (“The Exorcist” and “Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore”), who read excerpts from the Declaration of Independence.
The afternoon celebration, Let Freedom Ring, welcomed Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett and Michael DiYeso, CEO of the Freedom Foundation, along with the Pennsylvania Society Sons of the American Revolution and Descendants of the Signers of the Declaration of Independence. This year, the symbolic tapping of the Liberty Bell included not only the traditional young descendants of the signers of the declaration, but also two new United States citizens, formerly of India.
In the midst of Freedom Week celebrations, the park also managed numerous First Amendment activities. Fifteen groups submitted permits for public assemblies within the park, an unusually high number for this period of time. In addition, the park was prepared for an unpermitted gathering, as groups affiliated with “Occupy” had indicated their intention to gather in the park without a permit. Park staff, working closely with the Northeast Region’s SET team, the Park Police, and the Philadelphia Police Department, successfully managed several large unpermitted gatherings within the park, all without significant interruption to park interpretive programs or planned events.
Freedom Week activities wrapped up on July 8th with the annual reenactment of the first public reading of the Declaration of Independence. Standing behind Independence Hall, ranger Paul Campbell, portraying Colonel John Nixon, roused the growing crowd to cheers (and traditional jeers) with his impassioned reading of the document.
Independence Day protests around Independence Hall have helped shaped our nation. In 1876, after being denied permission to speak as part of the program or to bring a group of supporters into the events organized around Independence Hall for Independence Day, Susan B. Anthony stood up on her own, with only a few women nearby to support her, and publicly presented the Declaration of the Rights of the Women Citizens of the United States to U.S. Vice President Thomas W. Ferry. Our country is stronger because of her actions. The staff of Independence National Historical Park looks forward to the opportunity to help all Philadelphians and visitors learn more about the many protests and rebellions that made our nation what it is today.