Watts Hospital-Hillandale Neighborhood Association

4th of July Parade

72nd Annual Watts-Hillandale Fourth of July parade and Celebration !  Everyone is Welcome !

On Sunday 7/4/21 at 10 a.m. at Oval Park, our neighborhood will host the 72th annual Watts Hospital-Hillandale Fourth of July Parade and Celebration.  It is Durham’s oldest Fourth of July celebration. It is our neighborhood’s great convocation and our gift to the whole Durham community.

Way back in 1950, Club Boulevard neighbors Tom and Alice Walker rounded up a handful of sweaty neighborhood kids, helped them decorate their bikes and trikes with red, white, and blue crepe paper and gave them a flag to carry.  They marched down the sidewalk and back.  It was so much fun, they did it twice.  Afterwards, the kids solemnly put their hands over their hearts and recited the Pledge of Allegiance.  They sang “America the Beautiful” and other patriotic songs.  Alice Walker was a kinswoman to Katherine Lee Bates who wrote the lyrics to “America the Beautiful.”  After the singing, the Walkers served up cold soft drinks – a real treat in the days before air-conditioning.

The event grew every year as more and more kids came and their parents began to join in.  The Walkers and their neighbors divided up the chores.   When the sidewalk could no longer hold them all, Tom Walker arranged to block off Club Boulevard for the parade.  He asked the police to provide a motorcycle escort and they were only too happy to oblige.  Alice promoted the creation of home-made floats out of wagons, crepe paper, and bits of cardboard boxes.  As the country added a 49th and then a fiftieth state, the Walkers got the new U.S. flags for the kids to carry. These same flags, now fragile with age, still lead the parade.

Over time Tom and Alice passed the baton for the parade to other neighbors.  Phil Lehman organized the event for a while and then Albert Dailey took over.  By then the crowd numbered in the hundreds and neighbors began to decorate Oval Park, the beginning and ending place for the parade, with flags from every state and nation.  In the years that followed, Mike Shiflett, Mike McKinney, and Don Moffitt traded the organizational duties.  In recent years Tom Miller, Perry Whitted, and Reid and Catie Shaffer have chaired the unofficial committee.  They have lots of help.  It takes twenty volunteers each year to pull the event off.  The morning of the big day you will find them in the park with ladders, pick-up trucks, traffic cones, t-shirts, a thousand cokes, a mile of knotted clothesline, and hundreds of flags.  For some, the hour before the parade starts is the best part of the show.

It was Tom Miller who started festooning the park with flags.  Every year he’d by a few more, here and there, sometimes by special request.  Flags of every state and nation to express the national motto, e pluribus unum!  Today there are hundreds of flags.  Some are gigantic.  One huge flag has 45 stars and has been in Tom’s family since 1898! There’s no way the flag crew can ever put up them all the flags up.  But they try and the result is thrilling.

Usually a local dignitary leads the crowd in the Pledge of Allegiance.

In recent years it has not been unusual for many, many people to attend the neighborhood July 4 parade.  Sometimes you’ll see four generations of a family marching along.  Nowadays, the fire department sends a fire truck out to lead the parade.  The singing is led by the OK Chorale, a group of local singers that includes several Watts-Hillandale neighbors.  Their a capella rendition of “The Star Spangled Banner” is more stirring than anything a military band can produce.  To keep the event’s traditions alive, Hager Rand and our neighbors at the Coca Cola Bottling Company on Hillsborough Road provide hundreds of ice-cold Cokes in the little glass bottles to beat back the July heat. The kids today love them as much as the kids loved them back in 1950.

So, decorate your bikes, wagons, strollers, scooters, and trikes.  Wear your red, white, and blue and march with your neighbors.  Bring the flag of your home state or country and carry it along with you.  Call your friends from other neighborhoods and other towns.  Everyone is welcome.  Hang a U. S. flag from your porch.  Be at the corner of Oakland Avenue and Club Boulevard at 9:50 a.m.  The parade will start promptly on the hour!  It’s another Watts-Hillandale Fourth of July!

Check out these photos of the 4th courtesy of Don Moffitt.

Updated 6/13/21 dd