The sizzling July heat was still at bay early Sunday morning as residents of the Watts-Hillandale neighborhood gathered at Oval Park in Durham to prepare for their annual Fourth of July parade.
Under neighbor Tom Miller’s leadership, a dozen or so volunteers used wooden clothes pins to clip flags along a lengthy clothesline tied to the trees surrounding the park’s grassy field.
Even though they are celebrating an American holiday, star-spangled banners weren’t the only flags adorning the field. Flags from individual U.S. states and world countries also waved in the air.
One of the flags was Miller’s great-grandfather’s 48-star flag.
“The original organizer, Mr. Tom Walker, encouraged people to bring flags from their home states and their home countries,” Miller, the current event organizer, said in an interview.
The idea behind this, Miller says, was to stress the U.S. motto, “E pluribus unum,” which means “Out of many, one” in Latin.
“We carry that on today,” Miller said. “We have flags from lots of different countries and lots of different people here that make up the whole community.”
Last year, the celebration was scaled back due to the COVID-19 pandemic and only 20 volunteers marched along the parade’s usual path while residents watched and waved from their homes.
This year, by 9:45 a.m. an excited crowd make its way by foot toward the heart of the neighborhood, at the intersection of Club Boulevard and Oakland Avenue near the park’s main entrance.
THREAD: I’m at the 72nd Annual Watts –Hillandale #FourthofJuly Parade at Oval Park in #Durham. Right now volunteers are decorating the park with “hundreds of flags” from different states and countries @newsobserver pic.twitter.com/gqMMVrDz6z
— Laura Brache (@Laura Brache) July 4, 2021
One of the attendees, Gabriela Jauregui Matthews, brandished a large Argentinian flag to represent her native country.
“To me, this parade represents what Durham is, which is a melting pot,” Jauregui Matthews, who moved to Durham in 1967, said. “I don’t think Watts-Hillandale, or Durham, or North Carolina, or the United States could exist without everybody that we have here from many different places of the world.”
Clare Adkin, one of the volunteers earlier in the morning, returned with his wife Sally after decorating their bikes. This is their 26th year taking part in the parade since they moved to Durham in 1995.
“I started helping Tom Miller probably 15 years ago,” he said. “It’s a patriotic, God-bless-America kind of feeling.”
The parade officially kicked off at 10 a.m. with the traditional ringing of a cow bell once intersections were blocked off for attendees to march along the streets.
Walking down Club Boulevard were Thibault and Zing Worth with their daughter Isadora. They just moved back to the United States from Taiwan, where Zing is originally from.
“When I told (my daughter) that we were gonna hold the Taiwan flag at the parade, she was so excited,” she said.
The Watts-Hillandale Fourth of July parade tradition started in 1950. Husband and wife Alice and Tom Walker, now deceased, lived at the corner of Virginia Avenue and Club Boulevard. There, they asked families from the neighborhood to bring their kids over dressed in red, white and blue where they marched down the block waving the American flag. Once they got back home, they recited the Pledge of Allegiance and sang patriotic songs while enjoying a bottle of a local soda.
These days, each guest at the parade gets to drink an ice-cold, miniature, glass Coke bottle supplied by the nearby Durham Coca-Cola Bottling Company on Hillsborough Road. And attendees still sing patriotic songs — which on Sunday included “This Land is Your Land.”
“This land is made for you and me,” they sang, waving flags of many countries.