President Obama’s inaugural speech on Monday was a powerful battle cry in the name of equality for all. But where historical references impressed many, some were left in the dark. What significance did Seneca, Stonewall, and Selma have? It was obvious they all had something to do with history and equal rights, but many did not know the details:
1. Seneca was used in reference to the Seneca Falls Convention held in July of 1848. It was the first women’s rights convention to be organized by women in the Western world. Over two days, six sessions were held on the topics of law and the role of women in society. Elizabeth Cady Stanton and the many Quaker women who organized the convention presented The Declaration of Sentiments and a list of resolutions. Women’s right to vote came up and was heavily debated—with Frederick Douglass arguing for its sake. Just one of the 100 women who signed the documents, Charlotte Woodward, lived to see the Nineteenth Amendment passed in 1920.
2. Stonewall referenced the Stonewall riots, which were a series of violent demonstration held by members of the gay community in New York City to protest a police raid that took place at the Stonewall in on June 28, 1969. Officers lost control of the situation while raiding the inn, which quickly devolved into riots. Stonewall is recognized by many as the single most important event leading to the spawning of modern LGBT equal rights movement. To this day, NYC is a hub for LGBT activism, and the city is the landing pad for powerful LGBT advocates like Ken Mehlman and Christine Quinn.
3. Selma was referring to the 1965 civil rights march in Selma. Blacks had battled against white supremacy, segregation, and the denial of black voting rights since the imposition of Jim Crow laws after slavery was abolished. A group of 600 civil rights marchers left Selma via Highway 80 on March 7, 1965, and were met by state troopers and sheriff’s deputies—who attacked them using billy clubs and tear gas. It would later be called “Bloody Sunday.” The visibility that the Selma march gave to the civil rights movement helped increase public support for the cause, leading to the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 the very same year.