MEMPHIS, Tenn. — The annual parade is a highlight of the Southern Heritage Classic.
The route goes through the heart of Orange Mound, and over the last 20 years, it’s become a point of pride for that community. The parade is like a rite of passage for people in Orange Mound.
“They cook out on the lots. They have the lawn chairs out and the grills out. It’s just a family thing,” said Claudette Boyd, the Orange Mound Community Parade president.
The Orange Mound community parade is a staple for the Southern Heritage Classic and an integral part of this community’s history, so cancelling this year’s parade due to the pandemic is disappointing to say the least.
“It’s a bittersweet feel,” Boyd said. “We know we have to do what’s right for the health and safety of all the participants and people. But we’re missing a great part of our community cultural celebration.”
Boyd and parade committee member Algenner Jackson are coming up on 20 years of leading the parade. They still have the T-shirt created for the first year.
They can’t help but smile thinking about just how far things have come.
Thousands of people line the streets each year. More than 100 volunteers work to make it happen and they receive so many applications for participants they have to turn people away.
“No longer are we riding around the city looking for participants. Now they’re actually calling us,” said Jackson.
Boyd said people have been calling from as far as Nebraska, Louisiana, California and all over the country wanting to be part of the parade.
Coming down Park Avenue through the heart of Orange Mound, this parade represents more than just a day of festivities for this historic community.”
“Orange Mound is a historic landmark,” Boyd said. “We’ve been designated that so we try to celebrate every chance we get.”
That’s why it makes sense the home of the first African-American neighborhood hosts a parade that highlights historically black colleges and universities exposing young children to something different.
“It is so good to see the expression on the children’s face to see what they could be,” Boyd said.
It’s one of the reasons why organizers have rejected calls to move the parade downtown, instead making each year bigger and better and creating opportunities where they are.
That includes a scholarship fund that honors Jackson’s late husband.
Now, Jackson said, they’re able to award scholarships to several students each year, educating them on their rich past, inspiring their future and reminding them to never forget where they came from.
“Now if they were 2, they’re 22-years-old and they’ve been coming to the parade for 20 years, so it’s part of their lifestyle. It’s part of their history,” Boyd said.
It’s something that stretches beyond the parade route from Melrose High School down Park Avenue.
“It’s just one day but it’s something we hold on to and we’re going to pass this legacy on to some more people,” Boyd said.
This community was built to last.
“This is almost like a another cycle. another generation coming through and helping to build and keep Orange Mound,” Jackson said.