Living Democracy

My first July 4th in America more than special

My very first July 4th celebration in America was a memorable one. I will never forget this Fourth of July experience, and I will be forever grateful to Elba for showing me how to celebrate Independence Day and how to bring a town together.

As an international student from a smaller country, Jamaica, I was used to our one national celebration. While it is thrilling, it is not the same as how Elba celebrates. “Let Freedom Ring” held on July 3 was more meaningful because everyone was acquainted.

It just means more when a community comes together to celebrate their own small-town traditions. Everyone had something to look forward to, whether young or old.

As the sun started to set, casting shadows across Elba, people started to gather downtown all over the square. Booths were set up at almost every corner available. Flags and banners in red, white, and blue hung from the street poles all over town.

String lights stretching from the street poles toward a central point created a spiral over the downtown square. It was unlike anything I have seen before. The crowd gathered on the sidewalks with their chairs, stools, and blankets preparing for an exciting evening ahead.

Everyone was dressed patriotically, transforming the square into a huge American mosaic.  The celebration started with a parade of golf carts amazingly decorated in red, white, and blue rolling around the square with the different pageant queens smiling and waving gracefully to the people.

The excitement was brought to a pause to officially commemorate the 6th annual Let Freedom Ring celebration in Elba. Mayor Maddox highlighted the winners of the different pageants hosted prior to the celebration, and Pastor Phillip Box blessed the evening’s activities.

The energy grew as the Cadie Calhoun band performed a set. Parents and children were gathered in front of the stage dancing. Elderly couples jumped into the dancing whenever they heard some old songs that were hits in the past. There was a watermelon eating and seed spitting competition during the concert segment.

It was nothing but amazing. I was thrilled throughout it all. The most incredible part for me was driving around in the golf cart helping Jim and Laurie Chapman hand out approximately 400 popsicles.

Attractions such as bouncy houses were set up beside the courthouse to keep the kids active throughout the celebration. Restaurants around town had booths situated around the square to keep families fed.

At every turn, one could see people walking and eating watermelon courtesy of the Masonic Lodge. Individuals kept arriving all night long as it looked like all of Elba gathered in one spot.

I felt like a citizen of the city even though I have only been living here as a Living Democracy student for six weeks. I saw many familiar faces, met new people, and everyone was so friendly and welcoming.

Let Freedom Ring was definitely an exciting event for Elba.  The night concluded with a massive, colorful, exciting 13-minute fireworks show that left the crowd in awe. Firework after firework kept our gaze in sync as no one wanted to miss a single blast of light.

By Oquendo Bernard
Last Updated: July 06, 2021