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This Week in History
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Unification drives this week. Politically, a young America and an ancient China solidified their respective countries. Socially, separated races and classes strove to forge an integrated future. Here's what happened this week in history:

July 1

1997: Hong Kong returned to China

Sixteen years ago, China regained sovereignty of the island of Hong Kong from the British crown through "the Handover." The Chinese had not controlled Hong Kong since 1842.

Tung Chee-hwa assumed administration of Hong Kong from British Governor Chris Patten. He became the head of a regional government with close ties to mainland China.

"The reunification," as many Chinese called it, marked an important moment as Hong Kong was once again under Chinese rule for the first time in over 150 years.

In a symbolic gesture, British leaders, former Governor Patten and Prince Charles, sailed from Hong Kong shortly after "the handover," when the Union Jack was lowered and replaced with the Chinese flag.

"Hong Kong's return to the motherland is a shining page in the annals of the Chinese nation," Chinese President Jiang Zemin declared during the turnover ceremony.

"The handover" revealed tensions between Communist China and those in favor of democracy. As Hong Kong reunited with China, pro-democratic demonstrators attempted to assert their political dissent.

Despite the protestors' efforts, Tung Chee-hwa was quickly instated without issue.

As the old legislature was replaced, new suppressive measures were instated, restricting free speech and dissent.

1862: Pacific Railroad Act Signed

On July 1, President Lincoln signed the Pacific Railroad Act. This act called for the creation of a transcontinental railway to unite the Eastern and Western United States.

The Pacific Railroad Act emerged as Congress debated its right to fund internal improvements. Its signing solidified Congress' ability to provide interstate transportation.

Congress hired private corporations, the Union Pacific Railway and Central Pacific Railway, to lay track along the 32nd parallel from Sacramento, Calif., and Omaha, Neb., respectively, to meet in the middle.

In compensation, after every 40 miles of track, the railroad was given 6,400 acres of land, and governmental loans.

The two lines connected in 1869, providing a critical tie for the expanding country.

With the addition of California and Oregon, the railroad was integral for transporting both people and goods to and from the newest Western states.

July 2

1964: President Johnson Signs Civil Rights Act After months of heated debate in the House of Representatives and Senate, the Civil Rights Act was signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson on July 1, 1964.

Watch a video of President Johnson signing the Civil Rights Act in ABC Archives HERE

In a historic televised event in the East Room of the White House, Johnson signed the legislation with 85 different pens, and later gave them away as mementos of the occasion.

Championed by President Kennedy in his successful 1960 campaign, civil rights became a mainstay of the Johnson administration after Kennedy was assassinated.

Johnson, as vice president, was the chairman of the President's Committee on Equal Employment Opportunities before assuming the presidency after Kennedy's death.

Widely considered one of the most sweeping civil rights legislation, the Civil Rights Act ensured that blacks and other minorities would not be discriminated against in the workplace and schools. It also prohibited racial segregation in public places such as parks, schools, buses and swimming pools.

The law laid the groundwork for other important pieces of civil rights legislation such as the Voting Rights Act of 1965—parts of which were struck down by the Supreme Court last week.

July 3

1863: Battle of Gettysburg Ends

Over the course of three scorching summer days, the small town of Gettysburg saw one of the largest and bloodiest battles on American soil.

Union and Confederate troops converged on this impromptu battlefield when General Robert E. Lee of the Confederate Army sent almost 25,000 soldiers to intercept the less than 20,000 the Union had stationed near the small town.

Already in a strong defensive position, the Union Army had even more time to organize when Lee's command to attack went unexecuted until 4 p.m.

Over the course of three days, General Lee and Union General Meade maneuvered and attacked right, left and center.

On the final day of battle, July 3, 1863, the famous assault nicknamed Pickett's Charge took place, which represented Lee's last attempt at winning the battle and ultimately ended in disaster, both in its effectiveness and long-term morale on the troops.

Somewhere between 46,000 and 51,000 troops were killed between both the Union and Confederate armies during the battle.

Often called "the turning point of the Civil War," the battle dealt a severe blow to the Confederate Army, forcing the troops to retreat to the South and never invade the North again.

July 4

1776: Continental Congress Adopts the Declaration of Independence

Thursday marks America's 237th birthday, the anniversary of the adoption—not the signing—of the Declaration of Independence by the Second Continental Congress in Philadelphia.

The Declaration was signed by a majority of the 56 delegates a month later, on Aug. 2, 1776.

The holiday is celebrated on July 4 to honor the date when the delegates agreed, after two days of debate, on the wording of Thomas Jefferson's text.

"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness," the final edition of the Declaration read.

The poetic words were enough to spark a riot in New York. When a copy of the Declaration made it to the city on July 9, future president George Washington read the words to a cheering crowd at City Hall who then proceeded to dismantle a statue of King George III.

The metal from the statue was later used to shape 42,000 musket balls for the Continental Army.

Fifty years to the day after the adoption of the Declaration of Independence, two signers and former presidents, John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, both died.

Adams' final words are said to have been, "Thomas Jefferson survives," because he had not yet received the news that Jefferson had died earlier that day.

July 5

1935: NLRB Enacted

On July 5, 1935, President Franklin Roosevelt signed into law the National Labor Relations Act, which legalized employees' right to join a union and mandated that employers collectively bargain with their workers when necessary.

The law—sometimes referred to as the Wagner Bill after its sponsor, Sen. Robert Wagner of New York—also created the National Labor Relations Board to further ensure workers' rights.

The board has three members, who are appointed by the president and confirmed by the Senate, to investigate possibly unjust working conditions and determine the bargaining power of unions to represent employees. It continues to exist today.

The act was first proposed in 1934 following a strike by 500,000 American workers in various industries. In passing the law, Congress agreed, "The inequality of bargaining power between employees who do not possess full freedom of association or actual liberty of contract and employers who are organized in the corporate or other forms of ownership association substantially burdens and affects the flow of commerce."

The act was one component of FDR's "New Deal" and assured both his popularity with unions and, consequently, his victory in the 1936 presidential election.

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