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The Evanston Fourth of July Association

I love the 4th of July and the parade! This is probably why they asked me to be a part of the Association. As the Celebration Manager, I coordinate all aspects of the celebration. The celebration committee secures the paid performers, takes the applications for entries, assigns the entries unit numbers, lays out the parade, secures the volunteers, orders the judging and reviewing stands, and many other duties. It’s probably the most fun I’ve ever had without getting a paycheck.

The 4th of July parade has been a tradition for Evanston residents for 100 years. For most of those 100 years, thousands have lined up along Central St to watch the dozens of entries make their way down the parade route toward Dyche Stadium (now Ryan Field). The two-hour parade and celebration has been voted one of the Nation’s Five Best by Country Home Magazine. The Evanston Fourth of July Association is responsible for the daylong celebration which starts early in the morning with a fun run, roller skating at the Fleetwood-Jourdain Center, games at the parks, then the afternoon parade, and ending with the concert and fireworks at the lakefront.

The Association receives no funds from the City to put on the celebration. Instead, a dedicated group of volunteers and donated funds make the day’s festivities possible. Many Evanstonian’s love the 4th of July daylong celebration, and to many it feels like a real community effort.


However, there are others who may not be so eager to heap praise on the celebration. To these individuals, it feels like an elitist party for residents and businesses of Central Street. This may feel like a harsh statement, but it’s true. So, if this statement doesn’t resonate with you, you might be asking why does it feel that way for others?

Let’s consider a few points in the history of the 4th of July in Evanston. The 4th of July in Evanston was celebrated before The Evanston Fourth of July Association was formed in 1922.

Originally called the North Evanston Fourth of July Association it was created by the North End Mothers’ Club for North Evanston residents. The previous year, a young boy was injured while playing with fireworks. The primary objective of the first North Evanston Fourth of July Celebration was to “give our children a good old fashioned, jolly July 4th with historic interest to stimulate their pride in their country; and so supervised as to assure us that they would still be safe and sound on July 5th.” A worthy endeavor even when you dig deeper into the origins and practices of the Association.

As outlined in the Bylaws, the Association was to be made up of “citizens of North Evanston and not to exceed 50 people.” The intent may not have been to exclude certain residents of the city, but that was certainly the perception. And let’s face it, at that time in America, inclusivity wasn’t a common practice.

Bruce Baumberger, Trustee Emeritus of the Evanston Fourth of July Association says, “It’s hard to speculate on the history about discrimination. For my 50 years of involvement, I have seen strong interest in expanding volunteer and leadership to people from throughout the community 

and many who are not Evanston residents. I don’t pay attention to people’s religious preference, but I know that people from all religions and ethnicities traditionally participate in our festivities.  I am proud of what the Association has accomplished in the way of providing the community with a parade that reflects Evanston’s diversity both racially and economically. We’ve come a long way in the past fifty years. Trustees were not selected based on race or gender but based on experience as celebration leaders.”  

Clearly, things have changed and I’m not suggesting that the Association hasn’t made efforts to diversify and make it an inclusive event, but there is still room for improvement. As is common with many similar institutions in the U.S. change is incremental. And it wasn’t until 1980, that the name was changed from North Evanston Fourth of July Association to Evanston Fourth of July Association to include all of Evanston. I was shocked to learn that it had taken this long to
change the name given that the Association is largely progressive. Did this late name change along with its origins leave a bad taste in some residents’ mouths?

In the time that I’ve been a part of the organization, I can’t say that I’ve seen a concerted effort to diversity the Association. The last few years have proven difficult in maintaining the level of involvement with the celebration. Donations are down and the volunteer list is dwindling. Our Association isn’t alone in these developments. Organizations across the country are experiencing the same types of problems. So, what can the Association do to reverse this trend?

It seems that it should start with the Association itself. At the last census (2010) for which we have data, Evanston is 65.6% white, 18.1% Black or African American, 9% Hispanic, 8.6% Asian, .2% American Indian or Alaska Native, .02% Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander, 3.6% some other race and 3.8% two or more races. The median age is 34.3. The Association does not reflect the community in ethnicity nor in age and needs to find a way to bring in younger people and more diversity. Perhaps we need to reexamine our mission statement. Times are a-changing and a community organization should reflect the changing times. That’s part of what attracts people to want to be a part of an organization. Even though our mission statement is to put on a 4th of July party, should this be the entire scope of the Association? That’s one day,
one event. What about the other 364 days of the year?

Last year, the Association donated $10K to the Evanston Community Foundation COVID-19 Response Fund. Prior to that, the Association occasionally sponsored the Twilight shows, First Night Evanston, Evanston’s Starlight Concerts, land for Bent Park, and other community projects, but the Association has not been as involved in community support as in past years.

Something that might spark some interest is moving the parade to make it feel like a more inclusive celebration. Wynn Shawver, who is a current Trustee says, “If we want to create a 4th of July celebration that truly represents our community’s interest, it should be directed by the community. It may be that our volunteerism and contributions are declining because more Evanstonians don’t really feel engaged in the process. We should ask our community membership what the 4th of July means to them and how or where they would like to celebrate it. For me, the idea of moving the parade to a new location is really just the most graphic example of one way the community may want to update the celebration. If the community truly felt they could direct the activities, there might be some surprising new ideas to consider. We may find new shared meaning or new reasons to gather together.”

Concern among the current Trustee membership about the idea of moving the parade from Central Street to a new location is strong, but making a case to move the parade might be exactly what the Association needs. Moving the parade might show the community that we are serious about broadening community engagement. It’s not like it has never been in a different location. In its early form, the parade had a few different routes. In 1926, the parade began at 8:30pm at Lincoln Street and Lincolnwood Ave. It traveled East on Lincoln to Elm St; South to Pioneer; North to Harrison; West to Bennett; North on Bennett to Park Place; East to Steward;
South to Hartzell; West to Walnut, South to Central; East to Hartrey; South to Grant; West to McDaniel; North to Lincoln; West to Lincolnwood where it disbanded. In 1927, the parade was held on Davis Street. It wasn’t until 1931 that the parade was confined to Central Street I am speaking with different community members and organizations about the possibility of moving the parade from its Central Street location to another one. I’ve heard from past trustees, current trustees, and community members of a desire to move the parade route. I’ve also heard the opposition to the idea. If there’s ever a time to start looking at new ideas like this one though, it’s now.

2020 was a year of profound change. The death of George Floyd at the hands of police was another tipping point in the fight for racial equality. It sparked such outrage, people demanded that statues of racist icons come down, names of buildings be changed, and businesses change their policies to make them more inclusive. Leaders of companies and organizations who realized that they had had a hand in maintaining the status quo of systemic racism voluntarily stepped down. It was such a disgusting display of police brutality that the call to end systemic
racism in all its forms was louder than it had ever been. And many feel that moving the parade will show a commitment to inclusivity. So, the subject has been brought up again, but faces some opposition. The Association did make a strong statement of Response to Racial Inequality and Social Injustice last year. You can find this statement here: https://evanston4th.org/response-to-racial-inequity-and-social-injustice/

Is this statement enough? Is there anything more that the Association can do to promote healthy dialogue about our country’s history of independence – a dialogue that more people feel invited to join?

The 4th of July parade runs like a well-oiled machine. There’s not a whole lot of thought that goes into putting on the parade meaning all of the processes are already in place. The thought of moving the parade is daunting to some because it would require all new logistics. It would be a lot of work. But I feel that a process is a process. Just like in business, you can take a successful process and apply it to any situation. I really feel like we could take the process that works on Central St and put it in place on any other street in Evanston and it would work exactly the same.

 

Baumberger says, “My feeling is that the parade location should not be based on the 
preferences of any group but on the logistical factors of which there are many. This is a good year to engage in that analysis because it looks like we will be in virtual mode. This is a major undertaking that will require a broad-based committee and feedback from the community. City staff, of course, must be on the committee because of their role with police and public works support. Until the parade location analysis is done, it’s not possible to measure the reaction to the idea of a new route. Instead of strong opposition, I see a need to understand the benefit in making a change”

There are people who believe that it is a tradition to have the parade on Central St and, therefore, should not be changed. To this I say change throughout history always brings some kind of resistance and the excuse that “that’s just the way it’s always been done” loses a lot of credence today. It’s quite possible that the first time the Association decided to hold the parade solely on Central Street, they were met with opposition because many people do not like change.

All of the parades in Evanston (Juneteenth, Pride and 4th of July), share the theme of individual freedom. I’m thinking that perhaps all of the parades should share an association as well. If we are to be all inclusive and engage the entire community, then maybe we should have an association that has a hand in putting on all of the parades.

Evanston claims to be a progressive city and yet many people have no idea what Juneteenth is and why black people might not want to participate in the independence of this country when it’s not the independence of those with slave ancestors. Many don’t want to celebrate the independence of a country whose land was stolen from Native Americans. Even Evanston was founded by moving the Potawatomis west to Iowa. 

Source:http://www.encyclopedia.chicagohistory.org/pages/438.html#:~:text=Incorporated%20as%20a%
20village%20in,to%20build%20homes%20in%20Evanston.

We don’t even have the decency to at the very least pay homage to the indigenous people on whose land we built this country. And let’s not forget that this country was built on the backs of slaves, but they and their descendants have never really been able to fully participate in the promises made to its citizens.

Change rarely comes as a detriment to a particular group. Change happens as a benefit to all whether or not everyone sees it. I interviewed Bruce Baumberger for our podcast, Celebrating A Century-The 4th of July In Evanston, and he revealed that he led the effort to move the fireworks from Ryan Field to the lakefront to make it more accessible to all of Evanston’s residents. Prior to the fireworks being at the lakefront, the Association charged an admission to the fireworks show and concert when they were held at Dyche Stadium which later became Ryan Field. When they were moved to the lakefront, the evening program became free. This was a benefit to all Evanston residents because now anyone could access the fireworks show and concert.

This year the Evanston Fourth of July Association celebrates 100 years as part of the
community. Let’s not wait for the next 100 years to pass before we figure out what the Association should look like and how we should proceed. The Association should reflect the diversity of the community today and be an integral part of it as well. What types of activities should we be involved in? How can we attract new membership that will sustain us and move us forward?

As of this writing, we’re not even sure that there will be a live parade this year. The Association will make a decision in the coming weeks. But when there is a live parade in the future, maybe by the sestercentennial celebration of the country, it may not be in the same place that you remember. And that’s OK.

We’d like to hear from you! Please take a look at our questionnaire and give us your feedback.  

https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLScnF9Z5FyokzGtsqn8eBMlhN1jqjgXKTz3Ls48YlL-eZD4Fnw/viewform?usp=sf_link