Meck Dec Day is May 20, and I’m regularly surprised by how many Charlotteans I meet who have no idea what the heck it is.
It’s pretty much the most Charlotte holiday ever. If I were king of Charlotte, kids would be off school and the whole city would shut down for Meck Dec Day. There would be a huge parade and an epic block party at Trade and Tryon.
But before all that happens, it’s probably important to make sure everyone knows what Meck Dec Day is. So this week I sat down with The Charlotte Museum of History President and CEO Kay Peninger, and we came up with these five things you probably didn’t know about Meck Dec Day.
(1) What the heck is Meck Dec Day?
Meck Dec is short for the Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence, which was (supposedly) signed and read on the courthouse steps in Charlotte May 20, 1775 — a good year before the more popular Declaration of Independence. (We’ll get to the “supposedly” part in a bit.)
A rider came into town May 19 telling of the battles of Concord and Lexington, which led to a meeting of the prominent Charlotteans that lasted through the night and supposedly produced the document.
The Meck Dec, which you can read here, basically declared independence from Great Britain — the first time this happened in the colonies. After it was read and signed, militia Captain James Jack is said to have carried it on horseback to the Second Continental Congress in Philadelphia.
You can see references to the Meck Dec all over Charlotte: Independence Boulevard, Captain Jack Pilsner, Charlotte Independence, the Captain James Jack statue at 4th and Kings, etc.
(2) Four sitting presidents have visited Charlotte for Meck Dec Day festivities.
Meck Dec Day used to be a big deal — with parades and fanfare and visiting dignitaries, like sitting presidents. Over the years, Presidents William Howard Taft, Woodrow Wilson, Dwight D. Eisenhower and Gerald Ford all came to Charlotte to celebrate May 20.
(3) Thomas Jefferson wasn’t having it.
The Meck Dec first rose to national attention in 1819, when information about it was published in newspapers across the country and it caught the eye of John Adams. He noticed the wording of the Meck Dec was remarkably similar to the more famous Declaration of Independence that followed it, which was chiefly written by his buddy Thomas Jefferson.
“So Adams sees it in the paper and so he probably can’t resist the urge to just dig at (Jefferson) and go, Man, the wording in here is really a lot like what you wrote, but yours was written after this one, so did you like plagiarize it?” Peninger said. “He didn’t say that, but that was the gist of it.”
Jefferson called the Meck Dec “spurious” and said he was an “unbeliever.” (Hater.)
(4) Jefferson isn’t the only unbeliever.
So here’s where the “supposedly” from before comes in: Many historians doubt the Meck Dec ever existed. Peninger said that doubters think people referencing the Meck Dec actually meant the Mecklenburg Resolves, a definitely real thing that passed 11 days later, May 31, 1775.
The Resolves, which were printed in a colonial newspaper, “read almost like the next step” after the Meck Dec, Peninger said. “We’ve dissolved our political bands, now we need a framework of government until our Continental Congress decides what the heck’s going to happen.”
So does Peninger think the Meck Dec is real?
“Well … I’m not a total skeptic, but at the same time as a historian you have to say, where’s the evidence?” she said. “But there’s nothing to say this didn’t happen. … I think there’s still the possibility that it could turn up, but who knows?”
(5) May 20 is a big day in Charlotte for other reasons.
First, I should point out that May 20, 1775 is on the N.C. state flag.
Peninger shared a list of other big events that have happened on May 20:
– 1861: North Carolina seceded from the Union.
– 1891: The first lots in Dilworth were put up for sale.
– 1963: Prominent Civil Rights leader Reginald Hawkins led a march in Charlotte declare “independence from segregation.”
– 2014: The Hornets name officially returns to Charlotte’s NBA team.
Now that you know about Meck Dec Day, here’s how to celebrate:
Noon: The May 20th Society will commemorate the signing at the corner of Trade and Tryon streets, complete with re-enactors, historical readings and cannon firing.
10 a.m.-2 p.m.: The Charlotte Museum of History will host a free “Family Fun Day,” which will include a presentation from Peninger, drum circles, kids crafts and more. 3500 Shamrock Dr.
11 a.m.-11 p.m.: Celebrate Meck Dec Day at The Olde Mecklenburg Brewery and enjoy some Captain Jack Pilsner. A portion of the proceeds will benefit the USO of N.C.
Photos: Charlotte Observer file.