Evanston Fourth of July organizers were hoping to celebrate their 100th year of festivities with this year’s event.

They are now going to have to carry that theme forward once again with an in-person event docked a second year because of COVID-19.

As for next year’s celebration, should it go forward, “we haven’t come up with an official name,” said Tracy Alden, President of the Evanston Fourth that of July Association, during a phone interview June 22.

“‘Celebrating a Century,’ or ‘Centennial-plus-one?’” he tried. “Maybe just ‘Centennial, the Live Celebration’ or something.”

Mr. Alden, in his eighth year as president of the non-profit group, can be excused for being a little indefinite at this point.

Even when the group made the decision earlier in the year to cancel live 2021 festivities – which include a parade judged best on the North Shore – “we were contemplating what we should do,” Mr. Alden said.

“We asked some other groups like the Palatine Concert Band, some of our major performers, ‘What are your plans?’ ‘Are you guys comfortable participating if we do this?’ And they were at the same point we were: They were uncertain. They didn’t know at this point if they’re people would be willing to participate in an unknown environment.

“So it wasn’t just us saying ‘No, we’re not going to do it,’” Mr. Alden explained. “We were also getting groups saying ‘No, we’re not sure we can pull our group together.’”

In a backlot float a few years ago, the Statue of Liberty carries a copy of the RoundTable. (File photo)

He said after the group announced in March it would be canceling this year’s event, “there was some light at the end of the tunnel,” with numbers showing the area moving into recovery. “We still didn’t think social-distancing and related issues would be hammered out and allowed,” Mr. Alden said. “And so we just said we’ll just have to cancel. And then similar to 2020 we worked on a virtual program.”

The Association’s site, evanston4th.org, includes virtual parade videos, a “limited-edition podcast by the Association’s Celebration Manager Jamie Black, “Celebrating A Century: The 4th of July in Evanston,” as well as a  photo contest, inviting readers to submit photos in five categories — Most Festive Family, Best Decorated Lawn Chair, Most Patriotic Pet, Most Festive Dish. and Best Decorated Storefront.

At a meeting in May, Mr. Alden said, the group, decided to contribute money to both the Juneteenth and Pride groups toward their parades, making a $1,000 donation to each group.

Some activists in conservative circles picked up on the decision.

“Evanston, IL is hosting a Juneteenth Parade and a Gay Pride Parade,” tweeted one, “but 4th of July is cancelled this year. What’s the real agenda here?”

Mayor Daniel Biss provided some of the background response in a posting that appeared on Facebook, noting the events are run by different volunteer groups.

“The Juneteenth and Pride events, which are newer and smaller, were put together more quickly, so their organizers were able to decide whether to be in person much more recently, when we had a lot more public health information,” Mayor Biss said.

Mr. Alden said that some Association members received a few negative calls and emails after the reports. “But they’re all anonymous. I don’t think anyone left their name or number or wanted to hear back,” he said. “People just want to vent.”

He pointed out that both the Juneteenth and Pride events are substantially shorter in duration and smaller in scale than the July 4th parade and other activities, “where we draw a lot of families and kids, and it would be unsafe for them to gather under the current situation without proper vaccinations.”

The July 4 parade alone is “like an hour and a half from the time the first entry crosses Central Park to when the last one crosses,” he said.

An organized Fourth of July celebration in Evanston dates back to July 4, 1921, when a group, the North Evanston Fourth of July Association, was formed after a child was injured while setting off fireworks.

In 1980, the Association changed its name to the Evanston Fourth of July Association,” expanding its scope to include all of Evanston, the group says on its website.

Unlike most Independent Day celebrations in other cities, the all-volunteer community-funded group foots most of the costs of the festivities, which include sports activities, parade, twilight band concert, and fireworks.

With in-person events not going forward these past two years, “we’re pretty much financially in the same place that we have been. … We’ve not been hurt,” said Mr. Alden. “That’s why we wanted to support the other two [Juneteenth and Pride] parades.”

Bob Seidenberg

Bob Seidenberg is an award-winning reporter covering issues in Evanston for more than 30 years. He is a graduate of the Northwestern University Medill School of Journalism.

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