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Independence Day Commemorations

Southport, NC: photo by Mike Spencer, Star News

Along with fire trucks and marching bands, communities often want to showcase history at 4th of July parades. When commemorations intersect with crowds, history organizations have opportunities to engage new audiences. Revolutionary War re-enactors are common in many of North Carolina’s Independence Day events. Museums and historical societies should take advantage of the occasion too.


from “Sixty Four Selected Views of Western North Carolina,” circa 1915, D.H. Ramsey Library, Special Collections, UNC at Asheville, F261.S69

In addition to celebrating the United States’ founding, our state has some special 4th of July history to share and to promote. Sir Walter Raleigh’s first American expedition reached land along the coast of what became North Carolina on July 4, 1584–nearly 2 centuries before the Declaration of Independence. North Carolina can also boast two earlier Declarations of Independence, with the Liberty Point Resolves (June 1775) near Fayetteville and the Halifax Resolves (April 1776).

According to Smithsonian curator Roger Launius, public historians have the obligation to respond to the commemorative enthusiasm of various interest groups and to ensure historical accuracy in presentations. Here are a few ideas to get you in the Independence Day spirit and to initiate the planning process for next year’s 4th of July:

photo by Mike Spencer, Star News

A historically themed float will heighten your organization’s visibility. What could you do or create for the parade to engage your community and to further your institutional mission? The Southport Historical Society promotes its organization during that town’s huge 4th of July Festival parade. Nearly 100 years ago, young female descendants of the signers of the 1775 Liberty Point Resolves rode in a Fayetteville parade standing on a float in tableau form to illustrate the ideal of Liberty and to remind spectators of a dramatic episode in local history.

  • If your museum is near the festivities, try offering a break from the heat outside with a small Independence-Day-related exhibit or an educational program. North Carolina is rich in significant events of the Revolutionary War and the holiday is prime time to capture visitor interest in these topics.


    Even if your site does not relate to the colonial and early national period, 4th of July commemorative artifacts can form interesting exhibits. This Whig campaign flag from Greensboro debuted at a 4th of July ceremony in 1830. The Ladies of Edgeworth Seminary made the flag and presented it to the gentlemen of the Guilford Tippecanoe Club. A North Carolina alternate delegate wore this badge at the 1900 Democratic National Convention on July 4, 1900 in Kansas City, Missouri. Both past events linked to the significance of Independence Day in order to ally political party activities with the United States’ founding principles.

  • Set up a selling stand for concessions, crafts, and/ or other souvenirs that your organization has produced. Perhaps postcards reproduced  from the NC state toast image above (with the Ramsey Library’s permission) would make good gift items to sell. Ideally these will not only generate revenue for your institution, but also the products should connect to the cultural heritage that anchors your organization’s mission. Staff at the stand should be able to provide interested patrons with more information about your historic site and allow them to sign up for newsletters or other forms of involvement.

Make sure you have a visible presence in your community’s history-related celebrations and that your institution’s mission becomes a part of the public’s awareness of local history. What does your organization do for the 4th of July? Which activities have been the most successful in your area?