Raleigh at the beach
Atlantic Beach Fourth of July Parade
story and photo by Matt Lail
Every Fourth of July, as it has for some 40 years, a half-mile stretch of a residential street in Atlantic Beach becomes the site of a patriotic parade founded by – and filled with – Raleighites. A couple hundred folks enjoy a late-afternoon stroll from one end of the street to the other. Parents pull little tykes behind in Radio Flyers. Older kids pedal their bikes. And folks young and old – decked out in red, white, and blue – wave to onlookers and offer up a “God bless America!”
Much has changed in Atlantic Beach (and the rest of the world) in the years since the first Fourth of July parade took place on Club Colony Drive. The old bridge spanning from Morehead City to the island where Atlantic Beach sits was replaced years ago. The Circle – a circuitous roadway at the heart of the town – evolved from a quintessential beach neighborhood to a popular (if sometimes seedy) cruising spot, and is now the home of hip restaurants. Homegrown favorites Bert’s Surf Shop and Atlantic Beach Surf Shop are still there, but so are the ubiquitous Wings franchises. Many of Atlantic Beach’s old cottages are long gone, replaced with condominiums or luxury homes.
But Atlantic Beach is still filled with folks from Raleigh, and the Club Colony Drive Fourth of July parade remains the same – only bigger.
The late Robert “Doc” Procter, a Raleigh resident, was one of the parade’s many founding fathers. “It was small – just our little community,” recalls his daughter, Becky Procter. “In the first parade, there might have been 20 or 30 people there.”
“Doc” Procter proudly served as an Atlantic Beach reserve police officer for 20 years and as chair of the Atlantic Beach Town Planning Board, even while he lived the rest of the year in Raleigh. His commitment to the town had many convinced he was, in fact, mayor of Atlantic Beach. He helped get the Atlantic Beach police and fire departments to participate in the parade, and today, a siren-wailing Atlantic Beach fire engine remains the parade’s highlight.
Another Raleighite, Clyde Bailey, has served as the unofficial Grand Marshal of the parade in recent years. Decked out in an Uncle Sam suit, Bailey climbs into the back of a white Jeep Wrangler (festooned in red, white, and blue decor), and brings up the rear of the procession, typically accompanied by family and friends.
And though the parade has grown, it’s also the same as it ever was: still an opportunity for folks in a community they hold dear to take a stroll down the street and celebrate our nation’s independence all at the same time. Parents still pull their little ones in wagons. Children still ride their bikes. Entrepreneurial young folks sell homemade brownies, Rice Krispies Treats, and lemonade from homemade driveway stands. Some adults beat the intense summertime heat with a beverage – in a red cup, of course. Paradegoers toss out candy to spectators. (Though, truth be told, just about everyone is in the parade; forgotten or overlooked Jolly Ranchers and Tootsie Rolls can often be found in the street hours later.)
When the parade is over, Bailey hops down from the Jeep, takes off the hat, and heads inside, where the celebrations continue into the evening. As the sun sets behind Beaufort, the fireworks begin up from Fort Macon to Emerald Isle. Bottle rockets scream along the sand. The strong ocean breezes send puffs of smoke whirling about.
And as they celebrate their nation and community together the same way they’ve been doing for decades, folks know there’s something unusually reassuring in the notion that this simple, homespun ritual will continue in years to come.
“I can still picture some of the older folks cheering from their balconies,” says Becky Procter. “It’s beautiful to see the Club Colony Fourth of July parade still going year after year. And I truly believe this year Dad will be looking down and enjoying the parade once again.”