'Gotta love small town America': Marietta celebrates American independence in Let Freedom Ring parade

Jul. 4—MARIETTA — Past a thicket of flags and some 25,000 revelers, the Let Freedom Ring parade wound through the heart of Marietta Saturday morning, a celebration of the country's independence — from the British Empire and, in no small part this year, from the coronavirus.

It was the largest public gathering in Marietta since Chalktoberfest in 2019, according to Chuck McPhilamy, spokesman for the Marietta Police Department.

"This year's parade was certainly one of the larger (ones)," he said. "The city is guesstimating about 25,000 in attendance. And the parade went off without a hitch."

Founded in 1968 by former Marietta mayor Bill Dunaway and a group of downtown Marietta business leaders, the parade was canceled last year due to the pandemic. Elected officials agonized over the decision to cancel, opting, at first, to hold a scaled-down parade honoring the city's essential workers for their role in combatting the coronavirus. But, they eventually decided, the event would have been "too successful," making social-distancing impossible.

The parade's organizers never forgot about Marietta's essential workers, however. This year's grand marshal was "the essential worker," and teachers, first responders, hospital workers and public health officials led the procession.

Beginning at Roswell Street Baptist Church, some 2,000 people representing 110 organizations marched — or rode — along Roswell Street to Marietta Square. There, they turned right onto East Park Square and continued onto Cherokee Street, ending at the intersection of Cherokee and North Marietta Parkway.

"Something different for us this year than we have experienced in the past: the crowd started at the very beginning of the parade and continued to spread out all the way to the end of the parade," McPhilamy said. "There was a large gathering on the Square, but not like what we would have seen in the past."

July 4, 2021 marks 245 years since America's Founding Fathers declared the thirteen colonies' independence from the British Empire.

Asked why they had come to celebrate, Saturday's parade goers gave a variety of responses: to celebrate America, to celebrate the twilight of the pandemic, to observe a family tradition and, above all, to come together as one community.

"It means everybody coming together, loving each other, respecting each other," Missy Cook, a member of the Cobb chapter of the NAACP, said, before adding: "It's freedom."

Smyrna's Amanda Poole said it was all about celebrating her country.

"We love celebrating our Independence Day, and we like our kids to see all the patriotism displayed," she said, holding her young son, Joseph, as his brother Max waved Old Glory nearby. "America is the greatest country in the world."

As her children waved at marchers, Sarah Smith said she had come Saturday to celebrate a family tradition. Her husband, Ryan, said it was also "nice to be outside amongst people after a year of quarantine, tucked away inside the house."

Lyn King has lived in Marietta since she was 2 years old and has raised three kids in the city. She guessed she had been to the parade at least 30 times.

"We don't miss it," she said. "Gotta love small town America. It's one of our favorite things about Marietta. ... The patriotism, the community, everybody's out here together, we're all sharing in one opinion, I guess, for the time being."