PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — Mayor Jim Kenney presided over his final Celebration of Freedom ceremony at Independence Hall on Tuesday morning, and Gov. Josh Shapiro appeared at his first. The ceremony included music, patriotic speeches, awards — and a local celebrity.
Emmy Award-winning actress Sheryl Lee Ralph wowed the crowd with her recitation of the Declaration of Independence. Though she lives in the area with her husband, state Sen. Vincent Hughes, it was her first time participating in the city’s official Independence Day celebration.
“It’s amazing, in this time that we are in, in America right now, to celebrate democracy — the fact that America is still a dream for so many people,” she said.
Shapiro also participated for the first time, touting the replacement of a collapsed section of I-95 in 12 days, after last month’s catastrophic truck crash and fire, as an example of America’s can-do spirit.
“We believe that this is a place where we can do big things, that the spirit of Philadelphia that our founders drew inspiration from continues to guide us today,” the governor said.
But perhaps the most American thing about the ceremony was the small protest brewing at the periphery as officials spoke. A half-dozen members of the Communist Party burned three small American flags and aired their grievances.
“Indians were ‘savages’ that were slaughtered,” one protester shouted. “It was a slave-owner's Declaration of Independence.”
Park rangers led them away from the area, saying they were not allowed to start a fire at Independence National Historical Park.
Counterpoint was the Celebrate Freedom Award winner, New York firefighter Jacqueline Benel, whose family emigrated to the U.S. from Peru.
“My mother worked very hard to get here. She wanted to give us something she couldn’t give us in Peru,” Benel said.
Kenney presented the William Penn Foundation with the Magis Award, presented annually to a person or an organization serving the greater good of the city, at Tuesday morning’s Celebration of Freedom Ceremony at Independence Mall. Kenney founded the award eight years ago, at his first Fourth of July as mayor. This was his last.