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Freedom Festival Parade has long tradition, colorful history

By Genelle Pugmire daily Herald - | Jul 3, 2019
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Kyle Bond, a member of the Utah County Sheriff's Mounted Posse, carries the American flag down University Ave. during the Freedom Festival's Grand Parade on Wednesday, July 4, 2018, in Provo.

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Three planes perform a flyover during the Freedom Festival's Grand Parade on Wednesday, July 4, 2018, in Provo.

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J.D. Goates waves to the crowd while carrying the PFLAG Provo/Utah County quilt during the Freedom Festival's Grand Parade on Wednesday, July 4, 2018, in Provo.

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Mel Howarth passes out Pride stickers during the Freedom Festival's Grand Parade on Wednesday, July 4, 2018, in Provo.

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Utah Gov. Gary Herbert waves to the crowd during the Freedom Festival's Grand Parade on Wednesday, July 4, 2018, in Provo.

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Alan and Karen Ashton, the grand marshals of the Freedom Festival, wave from their vehicle during the Grand Parade on Wednesday, July 4, 2018, in Provo.

America’s Freedom Festival Grand Parade has been a showpiece of Provo’s annual July 4 celebration for more than a century. Each year, there is something newly added to entice visitors and keep a fresh line-up.

This year for the first time, the official Days of ’47 float will be in the parade. Joining it will be at least 20 other floats, 15 bands and 10 equestrian units. Utah Valley University will have a float with two giant screens that will project the parade spectators.

While it’s difficult to pinpoint when parades celebrating July 4 first began in Provo, Freedom Festival officials estimate it began just a few years after Provo’s founding, most likely in the early 1850s.

In a 1985 master’s thesis about America’s Freedom Festival by Marlo Jensen, he said the earliest published reports on Independence Day celebrations were in the Utah County Enquirer July 7, 1877.

There doesn’t seem to be one fixed date on when Provo’s parade and celebration became a yearly organized event. Some years, like during the two World Wars and the Great Depression, they didn’t celebrate.

However, the date on the official timeline being kept by the Provo Public Library says it was July 4, 1919, 100 years ago.

According to Paul Warner, executive director, the America’s Freedom Festival and Freedom Foundation that owns the festival, picked up the tradition 24 years ago. They are already looking for ways to celebrate next year’s 25th anniversary.

No matter when it really began, the parade is always growing and has quickly become the largest celebration of its kind in the country, bringing in more the 300,000 spectators every year.

According to Jensen, in 1985, Miss America Sharlene Wells and several Vietnam veterans were among the special guests.

However, while the parade received generally positive comments concerning Miss America’s participation in the parade, many people were very vocal concerning the Vietnam veterans participation.

That was just 10 years following the Vietnam War. Much was said about their appearance and lack of organization. Many other negative comments were expressed, Jensen said.

Over the past two years, vocal discord was again expressed concerning LGBTQ groups that wanted to participate in the parade.

On June 13, 2018, the Daily Herald reported that all five LGBTQ-serving organizations that had applied to enter the parade had been denied.

The denials came just a day after Utah County and Provo both added nondiscrimination clauses to their funding agreements with the festival following an incident in 2017 in which Encircle, a LGBT youth resource center based in Provo, was denied entry to the parade after previously having its application approved.

The board of trustees for the festival argued that it had “wide discretion to include or exclude organizations, groups, individuals, content, etc., on a wide variety of grounds.”

The word went viral on social media across the country. Within 24 hours the Freedom Festival leadership had met with the groups in question and they were allowed to be in the parade with certain restrictions.

The Freedom Festival Grand Parade continues to bring thousands of people to the streets of Provo. Pre-parade festivities begin at 8 a.m. with the Grand Parade following at 9 a.m.

This year’s parade route begins at about 1000 N. University Ave. and heads south to 200 South where it turns east to 200 East and then heads north to Center Street and then continues east to 900 East.

For more information visit https://freedomfesitval.org.

It takes a lot of time and energy to get the Freedom Festival’s Grand Parade ready. Here are a few fun facts about the parade.

There will be:

• 15 bands

• 20 floats

• 10 equestrian units

• 50 Military vehicles all privately owned, representing each war since WWI

• Everyone’s favorite necessity: 70-80 “Honey Buckets” along the parade route

• 300,000 spectators.

• 400 volunteers, which include local ham radio operators are at every intersection to assist with safety.

• 4 commemorative Air Force planes from Heber City airport.

• 100 LDS missionaries carrying an American Flag.

• 19 different dignitaries, including Sen. Mike Lee, Rep. John Curtis, Governor Gary Herbert and Lt Governor Spencer Cox.


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