[Picture: Cole’s Hill plaque]
The National Day of Mourning began in 1970, on the 350th anniversary celebration of the Pilgrims' arrival on Wampanoag American Indian's land – near Plymouth Rock.
(see event Reenactment of Thanksgiving – 1921).
The Commonwealth of Massachusetts was planning to celebrate friendly relations between their forefathers and the Wampanoag.
Wamsutta (Frank B.) James, an Aquinnah Wampanoag elder and Native American activist, was invited to make a speech at the celebration. However, when the anniversary planners reviewed his speech beforehand, they decided it was not appropriate for their celebration. The reason given was, "...the theme of the anniversary celebration is brotherhood and anything inflammatory would have been out of place."
Wamsutta used as a basis for his speech one of the Pilgrim's books - a Pilgrim's account of their first year on Indian land. The book tells of the opening of his ancestor's graves, taking their wheat and bean supplies, and of the selling of his ancestors as slaves for 220 shillings each. Upon being handed a revised speech, written by a public relations person, Wamsutta decided he would not be attending the celebration. Instead, to protest the continued silencing of the American Indian people, he and his supporters went to neighbouring Cole’s Hill, near the statue of Massasoit (leader of the Wampanoag when the Pilgrims landed).
Overlooking the Plymouth Harbour and the Mayflower replica, he gave his speech. This was the first National Day of Mourning.
The National Day of Mourning protest in Plymouth continues to this day, now led by his son, and the group James helped found in 1970, United American Indians of New England (UAINE).