Happy Birthday America! Little Known but Lively 4th of July Parade Wows Lower Manhattan

Though undeservedly obscure, the Lower Manhattan Historical Association’s annual Independence Day Parade is itself a cause for celebration— and reflection.

| 08 Jul 2024 | 12:28

Hundreds of ardent patriots gathered in Battery Park on morning of July 4 to participate in the Lower Manhattan Historical Association’s ninth annual Independence Day Parade.

Though the number of participants was small by Manhattan standards, if one counts the thousands of tourists and others who were delighted by the event as it snaked its way from Castle Clinton to South Street Seaport, the parade was a rousing success, and its impact more substantial than its relatively small size might suggest.

Wait, what? You didn’t know there was an Independence Day parade in Manhattan?

The tradition isn’t new. Indeed, Independence Parades were held in Manhattan for much of the 19th and 20th centuries. By the mid-1970s, however, the tradition, battered by the Vietnam War, President Nixon, and domestic terrorism—including the hideous Fraunces Tavern bombing of January 24, 1975, which killed four and injured scores of others—quietly ended.

Afterwards, the 4th of July meant the long-running Independence Day Parade in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn. In Queens, the decades-old Sunnyside Flag Day Parade of early June sets Old Glory waving and a more recent Independence Day event—held a week earlier than the actual date—at Fort Totten in Bayside, brings together the stars and stripes with picnicking, music and fireworks.

Given the primacy of Manhattan in the American Revolution, this neglect of couldn’t stand and in 2015, the non-profit, all-volunteer Lower Manhattan Historical Association (LMHA) inaugurated a new tradition of celebrating America’s birthday in what was once the very heart of the city—with a parade!

If overshadowed by the massive events in the weeks which precede it (Celebrate Israel Parade, Puerto Rican Day Parade, Pride March), just as light sneaks in between skyscrapers at certain hours, the passion of LMHA and its supporters shines despite the obstacles.

The Grand Marshal for this year’s event was New York State Assembly Assistant Majority Leader, Charles D. Fall. Representing the 61st Assembly District including Lower Manhattan, the North Shore of Staten Island and parts of Brooklyn, Small—the son of immigrants from Guinea, West Africa—is both the first Muslim and the first African-American elected from Staten Island.

Small’s achievements, and his presence as the day’s Grand Marshal, highlight another reason why some people are cool to July 4 parades: namely, the history of black slavery that our nation was born into.

By all means, all Americans should read Frederick Douglass’ renowned speech, “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July,” which he first delivered in 1852.

At the same time, it’s important to recall that July 4, 1829, was Emancipation Day in New York state—the day slavery ended—and certainly that is cause for celebration.

Similar thoughts were echoed by Assembly Member Fall. “If not for Independence, my parents wouldn’t have been able to live the American Dream, and I wouldn’t be the first Black man to represent Lower Manhattan,” the solon proclaimed. “With that being said, I want you all to have a wonder day, enjoy the parade, and let’s get this rockin’ and rollin’!”

Further remarks thanking those in attendance and offering some background history followed from bowtie and Mets-hat-clad LMHA President Ambrose Richardson and the organization’s sunglasses and traditional Windsor-knot-tie-wearing Chairman James Kaplan.

Their introduction was followed by a rousing performance by the blue and yellow-clad Factor Marching Band of Vernon, NJ, comprised largely of African-American teenagers. While the talented drum corps beat out rousing rhythms, bodysuit-clad dancers strutted and bounced to the delight of spectators.

At the same time, other parade participants—some in striking period uniforms including the Revolutionary War and World War 1 era—were getting their groups and banners organized in preparation for the line of march.

Among these marchers were the NYPD Emerald Society bagpipers; the Kimlau American Legion Post from Chinatown; the China Cultural Foundation; and the Sons of the American Revolution; and Daughters of the American Revolutions.

Again, unlike larger such events, security here was minimal. There was no special fencing and no massive show of police force. To the contrary, besides the National Park Police assigned to Castle Clinton whatever number of city cops might regularly be in the neighborhood, the parade’s procession was efficiently managed by just a handful of NYPD scooter police.

Exiting Battery Park near Bridge Street, the line of march went up State Street, past the National Museum of American Indian and Bowling Green, then cut down Whitehall Street to Pearl Street to Broad Street.

Further perambulations took the marchers to Wall Street with Trinity Church in the background and finally down to the East River Esplanade, with the parade route ending at South Street Seaport.

Here, more remarks were made, including by Council Member Gale Brewer, a long-time Independence Day parade supporter, and more music was played, too, for, as sweat-soaked as some of its drummers were, the Factor Marching Band rose to the occasion.