Labor Day: Looking back at the unions that changed American history

Black-and-white photo of chidlren and adults marching down American street in parade

The 1963 Labor Day Parade in New York City. Photo by US Embassy Panama, courtesy of Flickr

MONDAY, SEPTEMBER 7: Barbecues, parades and patriotic colors mark a holiday steeped in American history: Labor Day is the result of the long struggle for recognition by the American labor movement. Beyond recognizing the social and economic achievements of American workers, Labor Day makes us aware of the countless workers who have, together, contributed to the strength and prosperity of their country. In return for their contributions, the unions that made Labor Day renowned pledge to protect American workers and give a collective voice to those who might otherwise have none. The first Labor Day celebration, in 1882 in New York City, attracted more than 10,000 workers who marched through the streets.

Labor & Faith: The value of human labor is echoed throughout the Bible and the Quran. Biblical passages ask God to “prosper the work of our hands” (Psalm 90), while the Quran refers to the morality of conducting oneself in the public square. The late Pope John Paul II frequently talked about the sacred nature of human labor.

In the late 1800s, leaders in the Knights of Labor worked to spread awareness of Labor Day; the influence of religion was undeniable. Wrote Knights of Labor Leader Terence Vincent Powderly, “Trade-unionists, members of guilds, leagues and other organizations of workingmen embraced Christianity and proclaimed its doctrines as being especially advantageous to the welfare of the toiling poor.” The Sunday preceding Labor Day is known as “Labor Sunday”–for the spiritual and educational facets of the labor movement. (Read quotes about labor and religion here.)


Black-and-white cartoon of two men and crowd of men behind them pulling heavy item and pushing toward brick wall

A Labor Day cartoon. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

At the end of the 19th century, many Americans had to work 12-hour days every day of the week to make a living. Child labor was at its height in mills, factories and mines, and young children earned only a portion of an adult’s wage. Dirty air, unsafe working conditions and low wages made labor in many cities a dangerous occupation. (Learn more from Time and the U.S. Department of Labor.) As working conditions worsened, workers came together and began forming labor unions: through unions, workers could have a voice by participating in strikes and rallies. Some events turned violent—such as the Haymarket Riot of 1886—but for the majority of American workers, labor unions transformed lives. (Wikipedia has details.) Through unions, Americans fought against child labor and for the eight-hour workday.

Historians disagree as to who founded Labor Day: Some believe that it was Peter McGuire, a carpenter and labor union leader, while others attest that it was machinist Matthew Maguire. Nonetheless, the first Labor Day public celebration was launched on September 5, 1882, in New York City. Ten thousand workers marched in a parade from City Hall to Union Square. As awareness spread, Oregon became the first state to declare Labor Day a holiday, in 1887, and by 1896, Labor Day was a national holiday.


Experts estimate that union membership has now decreased to less than one in eight, though numbers are still strong in specific fields, such as education. Unfortunately, many retail stores today work their employees extra hours on Labor Day, to push Labor Day sales. That means a lot—considering that more Americans work in the retail industry than any other.

In New York City: Today, there is still a major parade in New York City on Labor Day, as well as in other cities across the country.

Unions on Twitter: Posts and photos about unions today can be found at #UnionStrong.

Holiday Weekend Travel: Surveys reveal that 41 percent of Americans plan to travel for Labor Day weekend this year—up 11 percent from last year. Of those surveyed, 68 percent plan to drive and 27 percent intend to fly.

Cookout Recipes: Hosting or attending a cookout or barbecue for Labor Day? Try a recipe from Food Network.

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Categories: National Observances

Krishna Janmashtami: Hindus celebrate the colorful life of a beloved deity

Two young children dressed fancily in headpieces, bangles, jewelry and clothing covered in beads

Children dressed up on Krishna Janmashtami. Note the child on the left holding a flute—an object commonly associated with Krishna. Photo by Kuntal Gupta, courtesy of Flickr

SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 5: Millions of Hindus worldwide revel in the spirit of Lord Krishna, fasting, chanting, indulging in sweets and celebrating for the grand festival of Krishna Janmashtami. An observance that lasts eight days in some regions, Krishna Janmashtami honors the birth of the Hindu deity Krishna, the eighth avatar of Vishnu. To devotees, Krishna is the epitome of countless characteristics: according to ancient texts, he is a mischievous and fun-loving child, a romantic lover and an empathetic friend. Worshippers relate to one or more aspects of Krishna’s personality, and legend has it that the deity reciprocates devotions in ways unique for each devotee.

Did you know? Scriptural details and astrological calculations place Krishna’s birth on July 18, 3228 BCE.

On Krishna Janmashtami, events begin before sunrise and last through midnight. Public and private prayer, both in centuries-old temples and in private homes, can include chanting and singing or a more private praise. Feasts of many dishes are prepared, and dances and dramas depicting the life and ways of Krishna are watched with fanfare. Some devotees dress or decorate statues of Krishna, while others string garlands across temples. Many Hindus fast until midnight—the official birth time of Krishna. At midnight, those at the temple watch a priest pull apart curtains to reveal a fully dressed figure of Krishna.


Human pyramid reaching 6 levels high

Young people form a pyramid for a Dahi Handi competition. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Across India, Krishna’s janmashtami is commemorated with regional variations. In Mumbai, Pune and in other regions, boys form human pyramids in hopes of having the highest boy break an earthen pot (called a handi) filled with buttermilk, which is tied to a string strung high above the streets. If the pot is broken, buttermilk spills over the group and the boys win prize money. (Wikipedia has details.) Various groups of boys compete in Dahi Handi, in impersonation of a favorite pasttime of the child Krishna: stealing butter. Today, political figures, wealthy individuals and even Bollywood actors contribute to prize money for the Dahi Handi. In some regions of India, younger boys—typically the youngest male in a family—is dressed up like Lord Krishna on Janmashtami. (Get tips here.) Hindus across Nepal, the U.S., Caribbean and more revel in festivities for Krishna Janmashtami, offering fruit, flowers and coins to the deity and chanting together.


The Upudi Press Photographers’ Association will be holding a state-level photography competition for Krishna Janmashtami, with cash prizes (The Hindu has more). At a Sri Krihsna temple in Karnataka, an eight-day cultural program will take place from Sept. 1 and observe festivities in an 800-year-old Krishna temple (more here). Bollywood singer Suresh Wadkar will be performing on the eve of Krishna Janmashtami at the Iskon temple in Noida (more here), and in Gujarat, an exhibition of miniature paintings of Lord Krishna will be inaugurated at midnight on Sept. 5. (Times of India reported.) A miniature painting takes a minimum of six months to complete.


Devotees far from a local temple can celebrate Krishna Janmashtami at home, with suggestions from

  • Invite friends and family to participate in festivities
  • Decorate your home for Krisnha with garlands, clothed figures and balloons
  • Find a copy of the Vaishnava Songbook and choose some favorite bhajanas (devotional songs)
  • Check out the webcam views at, which capture festivities at some major ISKCON temples
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Categories: Faiths of IndiaHindu

Ecclesiastical New Year: Orthodox Christians reflect on cycle of the Church

Painting of workers gathering hay and grains at harvest time

In ancient society, harvest time was a season for reflection, gratitude and the start of a New Year. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

TUESDAY, SEPTEMBER 1: A convergence of historical and biblical events places the Orthodox Christian Ecclesiastical New Year on September 1—a tradition dating back through the millennia. In an ancient agricultural society, harvest season meant gratitude and the recognition of divine blessings. Prior to the advent of the Julian calendar, Rome began its New Year on Sept. 1. Christian leaders also say that, based on the biblical record, Jesus Christ entered the synagogue on Sept. 1 to announce his mission. Today, Orthodox Christians use the New Year period to reflect and pray. (Learn more from the Orthodox Church in America). Some adherents recommit themselves to their faith, while others contemplate the New Year to come.

As the annual cycle of saint days, feasts, fasting periods, commemorations and more begins, the faithful examine the Orthodox Christian year. Through specific days and dedications, adherents can take the opportunity to consider people and events critical to the Church.

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Categories: Christian

Raksha Bandhan: Celebrate brother-sister bonds with Hindu tradition

Young boy and girl, India, stand close together as girl ties threaded bracelet onto boy's wrist

A sister ties a rakhi onto her brother’s wrist for Raksha Bandhan. Photo by Yogesh Kumar Jaiswal, courtesy of Flickr

SATURDAY, AUGUST 29: A promise for protection, blessings for a healthy life and home-baked sweets color the joyful Hindu holiday of Raksha Bandhan, an ancient festival that celebrates the bond between brother and sister. Weeks in advance, girls and women flood marketplaces in search of rakhi, or sacred threads, to tie on their brothers’ wrists; men hunt for chocolates, jewelry, clothing and more, in hopes of finding the perfect gift for their sisters. Treats are prepared and, on the full moon day of the Hindu month Shravana, in India, boys and girls young and old turn to their siblings and renew the bond.


Intricate peach-colored threads and beaded designs on bracelet

Rakhi threads. Photo by Santanu Vasant, courtesy of Flickr

From Sanskrit for “the tie or knot of protection,” Raksha Bandhan ritually celebrates a unique bond. To begin ceremonies, which are often carried out in the presence of several other family members, a sister ties rakhi on her brother’s wrist and declares her love for him. She prays for his well being and applies a tilak, or colorful mark, on his head. In return, the brother pledges to protect his sister—under all circumstances. Siblings then partake in desserts and prepared treats, and a brother gives his sister her gift(s).

What is a rakhi? A rakhi is a type of bracelet—intricately designed or simple, expensive or handmade—tied onto a brother’s wrist by his sister. The fragile thread of rakhi represents the subtle yet impermeable strength that exists between siblings—and the duty of the recipient to protect the giver. The sacred relationship between brother and sister is considered unparalleled, as even when a woman marries, her brother’s duties as protector do not cease. (Wikipedia has details.) On a broader scale, Raksha Bandhan is a time for harmonious existence and a bond between leaders—teachers, political figures, civil authorities—and those they serve.

Rakhi DIY: Eager to make your own rakhi? Check out YouTube videos on paper quilled rakhi, beaded rakhi and felt rakhi, for do-it-yourself instructions.


This year, Prime Minister Narendra Modi will grant up to 51,000 women and girls insurance in Varanasi, while urging others to give their sisters the insurance as a gift for Raksha Bandhan. (India Today has the story.) Any woman tying a rakhi on a BJP member’s hand may receive the insurance as a return gift, reported Hindustan Times. Organizers have expressed hope of enrolling at least 11,000 women in each assembly constituency across India during the Raksha Bandhan program.

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Categories: Faiths of IndiaHindu

10 years: New Orleans and the decade since Hurricane Katrina

New Orleans buildings underwater, view from above

Days after Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans, much of the city remained submerged underwater. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

SUNDAY, AUGUST 23: Ten years ago, in a season of record-breaking storms, dangerous weather over the Bahamas created a tropical cyclone or hurricane. Days later, Katrina headed toward Florida and strengthened immensely, hitting southeast Louisiana on August 29 and destroying coastlines through Texas.

In just a few days, the vast tropical storm had killed more than 1,800 people in seven states, destroyed $108 billion of property and left entire cities displaced. Now, a decade later, photographers are capturing remnants of the storm so unparalleled that its destruction still has left some neighborhoods, roads and community systems devastated in the region. The hurricane exceeded the National Weather Services’ annual budget and permanently retired the meteorological use of the name “Katrina” is still being examined by scientists, journalists, civil engineers and government officials.

vietnamese american catholics worship in New OrleansOne of those research projects was covered in The New York Times on Sunday—a study of the exceptional resilience of the Vietnamese-American community on the eastern edge of New Orleans. In the 2010 ReadTheSpirit American Journey series, Editor David Crumm reported from that same community in New Orleans that was rebuilding from Katrina even at that 5-year anniversary. In the Sunday NYTimes, scholar Mark VanLandingham reported on research into the cultural strengths of this community, which was one of the first of the poorer neighborhoods to rebuild after the disaster.

Man and woman walking through chest-deep water, carrying backpacks

Residents of New Orleans make their way through Hurricane Katrina’s floods. Photo by Chris Graythen, courtesy of Flickr


The death toll of Katrina was spread across seven U.S. states, but in Louisiana alone 1,577 perished as a result of the hurricane. When the levee system calamitously failed, thousands were left vulnerable, and an estimated 80 percent of New Orleans flooded.

Did you know? Hurricane Katrina formed on August 23 and dissipated on August 31, 2005.

Beyond the $108 billion in property damage caused by Hurricane Katrina, the Gulf Coast’s highway infrastructure and 30 oil platforms were destroyed. (NPR examines further.) Hundreds of thousands were left unemployed, and approximately 1.3 million acres of forest land were ravaged. Extensive beach erosion, the overrun of local marshes and oil spills were just a few of the environmental damages caused by Katrina. (Wikipedia has details.) Upward of 70 countries pledged monetary donations or other assistance after the hurricane, and several charitable organizations—such as the American Red Cross, Feeding America, the Salvation Army, Catholic Charities and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints—provided assistance to storm victims.

In photographs: Stairs that lead to nowhere—Photographer Seph Lawless and photographer David G. Spielman are two of the artists capturing the 10-year aftermath of Hurricane Katrina with photos that document the crumbling and rotting homes, restaurants, factories and schools of New Orleans. (View Speilman’s black-and-white photos, courtesy of The Guardian, here.) Lawless noted that the “stairs that lead to nowhere” are among the “saddest” images in his collection, left as the only testimony to many homes that once were. ( has a slideshow of photos.)


Weather photo of white winds over southern U.S. and ocean

Hurricane Katrina. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Following Hurricane Katrina, the Louisiana Legislature turned over the majority of the Orleans Parish public schools to the state Recovery School District. The result is evident in New Orleans today with multiple governing entities and 92 percent of students in charter schools. During the past decade, public education in New Orleans has seen unprecedented growth in student achievement, increasing enrollment and improving standardized test scores. (Learn more here.)

On Aug. 29 at 7 p.m. in the streets of Old Towne Slidell, in New Orleans, “Plus 10—A Decade of Resiliency” will mark the anniversary of Hurricane Katrina and celebrate the strength and spirit of the city’s residents.


Since Hurricane Katrina, the National Hurricane Center (NHC) reports that there has been development of a prototype storm surge watch and warning system through collaborative efforts. In addition, NHC forecasts have been extended from three to five days; watches and warnings have extended from 12 hours to 48 and 36 hours. (This article from Forbes reports on what has been learned since Hurricane Katrina.) Experts also are working to inform city leaders of approaching storms in a way that would prevent denial and promote action.

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Categories: AnniversaryNational Observances

Anniversary: Rastafari, Civil Rights marks birthday of Marcus Garvey

“[Garvey] was the first man of color to lead and develop a mass movement. He was the first man on a mass scale … to give millions of Negroes a sense of dignity and destiny.”

-Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., June 1965

Painting of dark-skinned man with colorful background and quote

Marcus Garvey Square in New Orleans, Louisiana. Photo by Mark Gstohl, courtesy of Flickr

MONDAY, AUGUST 17: A Black Nationalist who inspired Martin Luther King, Jr., united Malcom X’s parents and now has schools, colleges, highways and buildings honoring him across Africa, Europe, the Caribbean and United States is honored today, on the anniversary of his birth: the birthday of Marcus Mosiah Garvey, Jr.

Throughout his life, Marcus Garvey led the Black Nationalist movement by creating the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA), founding the Negro World newspaper as a major vehicle for communication and launching the Black Star Line, an international shipping company. Through the 1920s, Garvey’s public speeches contained mention of a “black king” who would soon be crowned in Africa and offer deliverance; the Rastafari believe Garvey to be prophetic, foretelling the crowing of Emperor Haile Selassie I of Ethiopia. For the Rastafari, Garvey is still seen as a religious prophet, similar to St. John the Baptist.


Born in Jamaica in 1887, Marcus Garvey learned to read in his father’s library and sought to unite Africans of the diaspora. The UNIA, formed in 1914, was the “broadest mass movement in African-American history,” created with a mission to provide economic and educational opportunities and inspiration for Africans of the diaspora. (Learn more from and The UNIA developed the Pan-African flag (colored red, black and green) to represent a race and movement. Though ultimately unsuccessful, Garvey worked hard to develop a colony for free blacks in Africa. (Wikipedia has details.) At its peak, the UNIA claimed millions of members.


During his lifetime, Marcus Garvey also faced criticism from many quarters, including from many African-Americans. One of his critics was W.E.B Du Bois. Nonetheless, Garvey’s efforts fueled what eventually became the Civil Rights movement and the concept of a secular organization for blacks. Earl and Louise Little, parents of Malcolm X, met at a UNIA convention in Montreal; the Rastafari continue to view Garvey as a prophet. Garvey died in London in June of 1940.

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Categories: AnniversaryInternational ObservancesRastafari

The Beatles 50th anniversary of Shea Stadium & Rubber Soul

Rubber Soul album cover (1)John Lennon and Paul McCartney had been making music together since 1957 and had been performing as the Beatles, since 1960. They first hit American shores in early 1964—but the second half of 1965 marked a series of milestones in way the band redefined popular music and pop culture in general. Here are some of the key 50th anniversary dates …

JULY 29, 1965—The Beatles’ movie Help! was released.
AUGUST 13, 1965—The album Help! was released in the U.S.
AUGUST 15, 1965—The Beatles performed for more than 55,000 fans at New York’s Shea Stadium.
SEPTEMBER 13, 1965—The song Yesterday was released in the U.S. as a single.
SEPTEMBER 25, 1965The Beatles cartoon series debuted.
DECEMBER 3, 1965—The album Rubber Soul was released.

New York Daily News front page 1965 after Shea StadiumBy 1965, “The British Invasion” already had landed and “Beatlemania” was sweeping the world. That was last year’s news.

The Beatles were ready to try things they had never attempted—including a dose of LSD slipped to them by a mischievous dentist early in 1965, biographers say. More importantly, by late 1965: They stopped touring for a number of weeks and worked continuously on the album Rubber Soul, which was released before Christmas. Music historians describe the album as the first time in pop music that musicians worked on an album as a fully formed concept—not just a collection of songs. Pop music was moving from short singles and dance tunes to longer collections of music that fans could purchase to listen to at length.

Rubber Soul finally knocked The Sound of Music soundtrack off the No. 1 spot in pop music charts—and, more importantly, inspired the Beach Boys’ Brian Wilson to create Pet Sounds. The two bands traded inspirations. For example, Wilson used “found sounds” in his album, including barking dogs. The Beatles then used found sounds in their masterpiece Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.

The often-cited Rolling Stone list of 500 Greatest Albums of All Time has the Beatles’ White Album (1968) at No. 10, Revolver (1966) is No. 3, the Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds (1966) is No. 2 and  Sgt. Pepper (1967) is No. 1.


Unless you’ve seen occasional reruns, perhaps on MTV or the Disney Channel, you may not be aware that the Beatles appeared for several years in a cartoon series, another way they changed popular culture in 1965. Lennon, McCartney, Harrison and Starr didn’t like the series when it debuted. Their voices were dubbed by American voice-over experts. The series froze them in a comedic snapshot of Hard Days Night antics. Many years later, they apparently told interviewers that the cartoons were better than they recalled.

But, the series was a milestone: It was the first weekly television series to feature animated versions of real, living people.


Beatles take the field at Shea Stadium in 1965The Beatles performed 10 concerts in their summer 1965 tour, but the Shea Stadium concert was historic.

Network TV icon Ed Sullivan introduced them to the crowd that soon was screaming so loudly that some of the Beatles’ music was nearly drowned out. The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame describes the concert this way: The first ever in a major U.S. stadium, and is known as perhaps the most famous Beatles’ concert.

1965 Beatles American tour (1)

The entire tour of the Beatles in the summer of 1965.

NBC News recently reported: It was the largest concert crowd in history at the time and is often cited as the birth of “stadium rock.” The Beatles opened the concert with “Twist and Shout” but it quickly became difficult to hear the band over the screaming fans.

In 1965, The New York Daily News wrote: Our Mets have displayed their antic behavior before some good crowds at Shea Stadium but last night’s turn-away mob of shrieking teenagers tested the solidity of the ballpark as they flocked to see Britain’s mop-top quartet in concert. Scores were injured in the crush or overcome by the humid heat but luckily no one required hospitalization.


In this brief video, you’ll see the Beatles take the stage at Shea Stadium:


Then, once they got going, here’s A Hard Day’s Night from the Shea Stadium performance:

Care to read more?

Beatles expert, educator, musician and journalist Charles Honey writes a five-part OurValues series about the many ways Beatles songs have shaped our lives. Enjoy!

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Categories: Uncategorized