The 4th of July is the quintessential American holiday - a day that is celebrated by parades, picnics, barbecues, baseball games, beer, and fireworks. Even those with a most basic knowledge of American history can tell you that the 4th of July is our American Independence Day, which marks the birth of the United States through the declaration of our freedom from the rule of the Kingdom of Great Britain.
But how many people know the significance of May 20th , known as Meck Dec Day, among important dates in the history of our nation, and particularly the history of the state of North Carolina? It is a date that anyone who has spent any considerable period of time in North Carolina has seen many times over without giving much thought as to what that date signifies. It is a date deemed to be of such importance to the state of North Carolina that it is displayed prominently on our state flag.
So what is the story behind May 20th , why is it a central feature of the North Carolina flag, and why is this day called Meck Dec Day? Legend tells us that there was a declaration of independence made fully one year before the US Declaration of Independence in Philadelphia on July 4, 1776. On May 20, 1775 the Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence (shortened to Meck Dec) was supposedly made in Charlotte, Mecklenburg County placing North Carolina at the forefront of the American independence movement.
While the details of the events of May 20th and the actual document have been lost to the passage of time, the legend states that upon hearing of the battles of Lexington and Concord, where British soldiers fired on and killed American colonists, the citizens of Mecklenburg county drafted a declaration of independence that was read publicly at noon from the courthouse steps in the small village of Charlottetowne.
About two weeks later, local militia leader James Jack set off on horseback to Philadelphia to deliver this document to the representatives from North Carolina at the Second Continental Congress who drafted the United States Declaration of Independence a little over a year later.
The actual veracity of this event has been debated and denied by historians and politicians alike, including the original drafter of the US Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson, who had been accused of plagiarizing the Mecklenburg Declaration in his writing of the US Declaration of Independence. Others have recognized the possibility that May 20th in the colony of North Carolina may have been the spark that inspired Jefferson and others to eventually declare independence on a national level.
Meck Dec Day has been celebrated in Charlotte since the 1800s and in 1881 May 20th became a legal state holiday although it is no longer an official holiday or as widely recognized around the state. Four sitting US presidents have participated in the Meck Dec Day celebrations held in Charlotte, including Taft (1909), Wilson (1916), Eisenhower (1954), and Ford (1975).
Beginning in 1995 the tradition of celebrating Meck Dec Day annually on May 20 in Charlotte was reestablished. Every year on Meck Dec Day in Charlotte reenactors read the Mecklenburg Declaration from the steps of a reproduction of the original courthouse in uptown Charlotte. Toasts accompanied by “Huzzahs” are made, followed by musket and cannon fire and a parade to the Old Settler’s Cemetery.
While the Declaration of Independence of May 20, 1775 in Mecklenburg county may or may not have been made (for the record, we believe it did happen), the colony of North Carolina was undoubtedly one of the leading players in the fight for American independence. The British referred to Charlotte as “a hornet’s nest of rebellion” and avoided it all costs.
The other date found on the NC state flag, April 12, 1776, marks the Halifax resolves - a resolution made by representatives from around the colony of North Carolina making NC the first colony to permit their delegates to the Second Continental Congress in Philadelphia to vote in favor of independence at the national level.
The Mecklenburg Declaration and the independent and rebellious spirit that characterizes the boldness of making such a statement has played an important part in the culture and lore of North Carolina. Meck Dec Day and May 20th is a date to be remembered and celebrated. Huzzah!
To read more about the details of May 20, 1775 and the text of the Mecklenburg Declaration visit the Mecklenburg Historical Association website at www.meckdec.org
For an overview of Meck Dec Day weekend events visit The May 20th Society website at www.may20thsociety.org