Durham County

Banners, Star Spangled and more, are hallmarks of this neighborhood’s long-running 4th of July parade

Mayor Bill Bell, who is not seeking re-election this year, led a crowd of several hundred people Tuesday morning in his final Watts-Hillandale Fourth of July parade and celebration as mayor.

“It’s a good community event,” he said, “and just being a part of the event is important to me.”

Carrying a City of Durham flag as he rounded Club Boulevard onto Alabama Avenue, Bell continued a long-standing tradition for the local community. This was the neighborhood’s 68th annual Fourth of July parade.

“If you have a strong community, you have a strong city,” Bell said. “This is an example of a strong community as part of a great city.”

The celebration has become famous for its decoration of Oval Park, 210 W. Club Blvd., with flags from around the world. Tom Walker and his wife, Alice, started the event in 1950. Tom Walker asked those taking part in the event to not only bring their U.S. flag, but flags from their home states and home countries.

“You’ve got a lot of people who don’t just live here,” Bell said. “I think it shows the strength of Durham, what other communities could be with the input given here.”

Preparations at Oval Park began at 8 a.m. on Independence Day with the placement of flags, some up to 20 feet long.

John Crawford, a resident of Hillsborough, has attended the ceremony for the last five years just to see the flags being raised.

“It’s interesting to see where everyone comes from,” he said, “everyone coming together for Oval Park and Durham really shows how we can come united.”

Following a short return down Woodrow Street to the park, each individual was treated to a traditional glass bottle of Coke before gathering for the Pledge of Allegiance. After the pledge, the O.K. Chorale, a group of Durham neighbors and their friends, led marchers in an a cappella rendition of “The Star-Spangled Banner.”

The chorale has led marchers in song for more than 10 years, signaling the finale of the celebration. Marchers, their children and dogs are then offered to more cold drinks and neighborly conversation prior to 11 a.m. — ample time to return home for a much needed nap before evening fireworks at Durham Bulls Athletic Park.

“You get to experience everything early before anything really gets started,” Crawford said. “A cold drink and then fireworks later.”