Gate City celebrates diversity ‘—at least for one day

by Jordan Green

The procession came in a stream down Friendly Avenue on July 4. The parade participants were, by turns, dignified, goofy, outlandish, carnivalesque and righteous.

In a testament to the enduring civility of Greensboro, various civic, municipal, commercial, volunteer and political elements of the city cohered in the annual Fourth of July parade, and citizens stood under the humid, late-morning sky to watch them pass. The mark of civility was also evident in the spectators’ pointing and waving at the marchers, and the fact they rarely cheered for any one particular contingent ‘— or booed, for that matter.

There went the Carolina Heat football team, followed by Jim Rumley, the Republican candidate for NC State House, who went down in defeat to Rep. Maggie Jeffus, followed by a horse-drawn hearse representing Hanes-Lineberry Funeral Homes. The cast of ‘“Das Barbecü,’” dressed in cowboy hats, waved from a passing wagon. A miniature tank and jeep identified with the ensign of the Army’s 82nd Airborne Division rolled along.

Two waving representatives of the Smith-Stokes car dealership cruised by, ahead of a Greensboro Police Department minivan and the Carolina Theatre cast of ‘“Footloose.’” The two ‘Triad Idol’ winners waved from a convertible. And then came a rumbling caravan of Corvettes, whose vintages ranged from the ’50s to the ’90s.

Towards the back of the parade, just in front of the city of Greensboro’s giant recycling truck with its gangly mechanical arm, came a coalition of left-wing activists, who had no counterweight from the political right.

About 75-strong, a group of immigrants and their allies marched behind the Greensboro interfaith human relations organization Faith Action’s banner, which read: ‘“We are a nation of immigrants, made strong by our diversity.’” Next came a group of adults and children identified as NC Labor Against the War, who carried signs urging, ‘Bring the troops home now’ and ‘End the occupation of Iraq.’

The Cakalak Drum Corps, dressed in baby blue shirts and bandannas, pounded out a percussive Afro-Caribbean rhythm whose clamor was nonetheless restrained in volume. They were accompanied by a trumpeter playing free jazz-style melodies. At times the drum corps’ music was drowned out by the revving engine of a ‘Woods of Terror’ dune buggy designed to look like a casket.

A group of anarchists, many of them associated with the Greensboro Community Arts Collective and the Fire Flies Festival ‘— which began on July 4 and ran through Sunday ‘— elevated the pageantry with a decorous march against the United States’ military expansion across the globe. Led by a woman dressed in a glittery, hot pink top and a blue gauzy skirt who was flanked by a train of twirling dancers, they comprised a formidable presence.

Some of them carried painted cardboard torches suggesting the wrath of angry Massachusetts farmers in open rebellion against the British crown. Though it wasn’t clear whether they would have a reinvigorated republic or a socialist utopia in their preferred future, the painted cardboard sun prop held aloft on a stick and trailed by streamers clearly proclaimed their disgust with the status quo, reading: ‘“Today’s empires’… tomorrow’s ashes.’”

A large human-powered road roller suggested the imagery of medieval besiegers more than the American patriots of 1776. The operator rested on a seat in front of a small drive wheel, which he propelled by pulling two levers, pushing forward a wide, plywood-constructed roller painted with anti-imperialist and anti-war messages.

Bringing up the rear, John Rash and Scott Trent of the local punk band Crimson Spectre ‘— an unit inspired in equal measures by The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and the Communist Manifesto ‘— and local activist Robin Hopkins carried a large banner proclaiming, ‘“The world can’t wait; Drive out the Bush regime.’”

The spectators stared politely from the sidewalk, showing no more and no less enthusiasm than they did for the miniature tank.

Thus began a festive day of downtown socializing, complete with various music stages and vendors, and two inflatable playgrounds erected in the parking lot of the US Trust Center and in Center City Park. An African drum and dance ensemble performed in the park between the Greensboro Cultural Arts Center and the central library, followed by a band of black-clad mariachi musicians. From other stages bands played rockabilly and classic country, while at one point during the day a DJ blasted the Commodores’ ‘“Brick House’” from a sound system set up in the Davie Street parking garage.

On Elm Street, one vendor hawked Confederate battle flags from a shack. There were Confederate flags inscribed with the slogan, ‘Heritage, not hate,’ and Confederate flags displaying the visage of Hank Williams Jr.

Across the street, a booth displayed South American pan flutes, and a brown-skinned musician gave a demonstration of their haunting sounds. Awed bystanders huddled around him to hear the music.

Old South revivalists, leftists, funksters and mariachis, Greensboro in its post-black and white identity seemed large enough to hold them all on this day of national celebration.

The ‘Stars and Bars’ weren’t getting much love, however.

To comment on this story, e-mail Jordan Green at