Parades going by the wayside

Published 1:40 pm Tuesday, October 13, 2009

I looked as far as I could see. I was up on my father’s shoulders holding on to a streetlight so I could see above the crowd. I wasn’t sure what I was looking for, but the excitement of the crowd let all the small kids like me know something important was happening.

Over the hill and then down the street the horses came. They passed by with cowboys and cowgirls in their finest. Ironically, we were standing in front of Malone Motor Company, the Ford dealer in Dothan for most of the early to mid 20th century. Behind me was a restored Model T and the latest 1960 Ford automobile, but it was the fine animals in front of me that caught my attention.

It is my first memory of a parade, the National Peanut Festival Parade when it still made its way down Foster Street in Dothan. The horses were followed by the bands and then the floats. Anyone who says that things were better in the good old days obviously wasn’t in a marching band following behind the horses.

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This year’s grand marshal of the Peanut Festival Parade is Joe Carothers, a longtime state representative and supporter of the festival. He recalled in a recent article of watching the parade as a newly elected official when the horses left a great deal of manure. The bands that followed refused to march until the waste had been cleared.

Carothers, along with the other dignitaries, had to perform some real public service that day when they had to leave the stands to shovel manure off the street. It wasn’t long before the horses found their more traditional position at the end of the parade.

Today is Columbus Day, and I began thinking about parades when I read of the number of traditional Columbus Day parades that were canceled this year. Philadelphia and Baltimore along with several other cities canceled the parades because of the economic downturn. It seems that a number of these parades were funded by taxpayer’s money no longer available. Others ended because of a lack of money for police protection along the route. Some communities have canceled the parades because of protests by Native Americans.

Columbus Day doesn’t really hold that much significance in our part of the country. While it is held to honor Christopher Columbus, it is also held to honor the arrival of more than 5 million Italian immigrants over a century ago. Most of these Italian-Americans didn’t settle in the South.

The real controversy about this particular holiday, however, is about whether Columbus should even be honored as a hero. Like many explorers of his time, Columbus and his men enslaved many of the native inhabitants of the West Indies, forcing them into labor for the sake of profits.

Historical research has shown that Columbus brutally ruled the Indies as governor and viceroy. Thousands died because of the introduction of diseases to the New World. Eventually, the King and Queen of Spain had Columbus detained and shipped home.

Life was so much simpler when you could sit on your father’s shoulders and when your only knowledge about Columbus was that “in 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue.” Isn’t there enough political correctness in the world without holding parades hostage?

Who doesn’t remember their first parade?

For some of our younger folks, it might be the upcoming Harvest Festival parade. For others, it might have been the homecoming parades that have been part of our schools for generations.

World War II brought ticker-tape parades, captured on newsreels for the whole world to see. Sports heroes of the time cause the same kind of excitement.

The earliest evidence of public demonstrations goes as far back as 3000 B.C. Parades have been used to demonstrate our national, local or religious pride. Mardi Gras has always been an occasion for endless parades, in the name of celebrating the last feast before Lent.

Our own Georgia city, Savannah, is home to the second largest St. Patrick’s Day parade. In my youth, a circus parade could electrify a town. Today, we have dozens of Christmas parades in our area, often at night to show off the lights of the season.

I saw the Tournament of Roses parade and was awestruck by the millions of flowers used to make these elaborate and detailed floats seen on television each New Year’s Day. Only the Olympic parades I have seen were more spectacular.

I grew up watching Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade only to see them all over again with my children, all the while smelling the turkey and dressing cooking in the kitchen. In 1963, less than a week after President Kennedy’s assassination, the country was still in mourning. The parade went on so as to not “disappoint the millions of children.”

As a politician, I have ridden in dozens of parades. I learned one thing about the smiles I would see on all that lined the route. Parades aren’t just about the children. They are about the children in all of us.