PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — Old City, the birthplace of our country, became the center of activity on the morning of the Fourth of July, as onlookers enjoyed the beginning of the big finale of Philadelphia’s Welcome America. They checked out the Celebration of Freedom event and the Salute to America Independence Day Parade on Monday morning. Those events offered stories of many journeys, including those of Black Americans and the struggle for freedom in Ukraine.
“Happy Fourth of July from the birthplace of our country!” Independence National Historical Park Superintendent Cynthia MacLeod said in welcoming hundreds of visitors who stopped to watch a ceremony at Independence Hall as part of the Welcome America festivities. She gave a speech that both celebrated traditions and showed how America's understanding of the holiday has evolved. She said America owed much to the Lenape and other Native Americans who first settled the land where the park stands.
The observance included a reading of the Declaration of Independence by Permanent Representative of Ukraine to the United Nations Sergiy Kyslytsya and Honorary Consul of Ukraine to Philadelphia Iryna Mazur, and performances by the Black Girls Orchestra.
Kyslytsya thanked Americans for helping Ukraine fight for freedom before he read the opening of the Declaration. Ukraine has been defending its own freedom since February 24, when Russia invaded the country. The U.N. estimates there have been more than 10,000 civilian casualties. The number of military deaths is unclear.
This ceremony also included the presentation of Mayor Jim Kenney's Magis award to former Aramark Chairman of the Board and current philanthropist Joe Neubauer, and his wife Jeannette Lerman-Neubauer. Theirs is the kind of uniquely American success story that inspires patriotic pride.
“I emigrated to America alone,” said Neubauer. “When I was 13 years old. I could not yet speak English. My public school teachers helped me achieve success well beyond my dreams.”
A short walk away from that ceremony, the Salute to America Independence Day Parade traveled west along Market Street from Second Street to City Hall, wrapping around its north side before ending on Broad Street. People were lined up on the parade route in chairs, holding cool drinks in one hand to ward off the July heat and red, white, and blue flags in the other hand to express their patriotism.
The colorful floats that took the parade route represented not only America but also the people who came to the U.S. to embrace freedom, including Evelyn. She, her daughters, and her granddaughter marched on the first Fourth of July that they have experienced in Philadelphia.
“I'm supposed to participate in the parade representing our island, St. Kitts and Nevis,” Evelyn said before it began. Floats representing Caribbean islands, parts of Asia, and many other areas of the world took the parade route on Market Street.
Deb Kay and her husband visited Philadelphia after a trip from Brunswick, Georgia to New Jersey. They said that out of all the festivities on the Fourth of July, they were most excited about the parade.
“We are absolutely loving being here with our family, and can't think of a better place to be on Independence Day than right here,” said Kay.
Kyla and Isaac Freeman’s daughter Cami danced in the parade with a group from Delaware. Isaac said that as a Black man, he had mixed feelings about Independence Day with what has been happening politically in the U.S., but they chose to celebrate America’s unsung heroes.
“There were Black soldiers who gave their lives for [American independence] right here in Pennsylvania,” Isaac said.
“It’s important to honor those Black people who sacrificed,” Kyla added.
The anchor events of Welcome America, the Fourth of July Concert with Jason Derulo, Ava Max and Tori Kelly, and the subsequent Fireworks Spectacular, have been scheduled from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. Monday.
“So excited,” Kay said about the Ben Franklin Parkway events Monday night. “Can’t wait!”