Philly does the Fourth right [photos]

Philadelphia celebrated its status as the crade of liberty with a ceremony and parade at Independence Historical Park, and Mayor Kenney was there to exercise his right to express his opinion.

Kenney often uses public speaking events to take a verbal shot at the White House. This time he didn’t mention the president by name, but his comments in front of Independence Hall had a familiar ring.

“In the United States of America we are free to vote for our elected officials, and we free also to speak out when we feel they are not representing our interests,” said Kenney to a crowd filling the south end of Independence Mall. “We are also free to practice our religion – the religion of our choosing.”

Kenney was at the Celebration of Freedom ceremony to present the mayor’s Magis Award to Vietnam veteran Ralph Galati, a prisoner of war along with Senator John McCain, who sent a prerecorded congratulation on video for the event. Galati now runs an organization to help returning war veterans.

The ceremony also premiered the Philly Pops new big band jazz ensemble, and honored the group Boyz II Men, alumni of the city’s High School of Performing and Creative Arts. In the 1990s, they became the best-selling R&B band ever, and were presented with a citation from the city.

After the talking came the walking: the ceremony launched a parade with 10 floats and dozens of marching organizations stepping off from 5th and Chestnut Streets. Thousands of people lined the sidewalks as the parade wound through Center City, looping back to Independence Mall.

“It’s part of Philadelphia,” said Len Cornwall of Northeast Philadelphia, who comes downtown every year. “Stand in front of Independence Hall and all the patriotic stuff. It’s great.”

Tenora Rogers from South Philadelphia had never before been downtown for the 4th of July.

“This is actually my first time coming in 35 years,” she said. “There are so many different cultures represented, so many different states. I love it.”

The parade was a broad cultural swath of the city, including traditional Latino costumed dancers, Chinese dragon dancers, a Mummers string band, and African American drill team – along with beauty queens, police and fire departments, and a contingent of characters from the movie Star Wars: the Rebel Alliance and the Galactic Empire united under the American flag.

“Actually, it’s much better than we expected,” said Jo Lund, who traveled from Fort Lauderdale, Florida, to be in America’s birthplace on its 241st birthday. “We weren’t sure – when they said it was only an hour, we thought, ‘How good could it be?’ But it’s been absolutely fabulous.”

Brian Callender came from Chicago, wrapped in an American flag that was tattered on the edges.

“This flag has been in 49 of the 50 states. One summer in 1996 I did a road trip and took this to the 48 contiguous states. Same with this hat,” said Callendar. “It’s great to be in Philadelphia in the 4th of July. It’s a bucket list item for us.”

The six-day Welcome America celebration’s concluding event is a nighttime concert and fireworks display on the Parkway.

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