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Georgians celebrate a July Fourth like no other

Jennifer Fitzgerald (L) and her daughter Vivian, 3, linger after the fourth of July Drive-By Parade, passed through the neighborhood in Powder Springs Saturday, July 4, 2020. STEVE SCHAEFER FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION
Jennifer Fitzgerald (L) and her daughter Vivian, 3, linger after the fourth of July Drive-By Parade, passed through the neighborhood in Powder Springs Saturday, July 4, 2020. STEVE SCHAEFER FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION

What’s a Fourth of July in Atlanta without The Atlanta Journal-Constitution Peachtree Road Race? What’s an Independence Day with so few parades and pyrotechnics?

The answer to those questions was this July Fourth, a Fourth without the famed 10-K race and a holiday weekend in which many communities opted to cancel, postpone or alter their patriotic festivities under the threat of a resurgent coronavirus.

Complete coverage: Coronavirus in Georgia

Georgians still flocked to lakes, beaches and the mountains. Many restaurants and bars saw their patios and dining rooms in high demand. Amateur pyrotechnicians — who are busy on any given Fourth — filled in for professional shows canceled across the Atlanta area.

Georgians still hung Old Glory from their porches and flag poles. Some cities went ahead with their holiday parades, if in somewhat modified form. Cities like Woodstock and Cumming still lit up the night sky with their annual fireworks, while encouraging social distancing.

With cases of coronavirus surging in Georgia, Ralph and Gwen Yoss, of Powder Springs, had not expected to attend any of the usual Independence Day festivities.

So, the Fourth of July came to them. In a “virtual” patriotic celebration, the city of Powder Springs held a drive-by parade that stretched more than mile into various neighborhoods. The city’s mayor, Al Thurman, and several council members, and staff from the city’s parks and recreation department, participated. Supporters of Black Lives Matter also attended.

“We love it!” said Gwen Yoss, referring to the patriotic drive-by.

“The Fourth of July means everything in the world to me,’’ said Ralph Yoss, a retired Navy officer. “We are blessed to be here.”

Cammy Gaines (L) and Stephanie Turner (R) hold a Black Lives Matter banner during the fourth of July Drive-By Parade in Powder Springs Saturday, July 4, 2020. The cars drove through different neighborhoods on their hour and a half parade through the community. STEVE SCHAEFER FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION
Cammy Gaines (L) and Stephanie Turner (R) hold a Black Lives Matter banner during the fourth of July Drive-By Parade in Powder Springs Saturday, July 4, 2020. The cars drove through different neighborhoods on their hour and a half parade through the community. STEVE SCHAEFER FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION

In many places, parades were replaced by protests over racial injustice and police brutality that have swept through Atlanta and cities across the nation since the death of George Floyd, who died in police custody in Minneapolis on Memorial Day.

Zarya Ajasin, an organizer of a peaceful downtown Atlanta march that started from the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historical Park, said the demonstrators were doing their patriotic duty.

“What’s more American than fighting for liberty and justice for all?” she said.

‘This virus is real’

The coronavirus, meanwhile, didn’t recognize the holiday. On Saturday, the Georgia Department of Public Health (DPH) reported 2,826 new cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus, the third-highest daily tally yet. The state also reported one death.

To date, Georgia has reported 93,319 confirmed infections and 2,857 deaths attributed to the virus.

Complete coverage: AJC COVID-19 Dashboard

On Friday, more than 1,400 medical professionals signed an open letter urging Gov. Brian Kemp to close bars and restaurants, ban indoor gatherings of more than 25 people, require masks and allow local governments to impose stricter rules to help mitigate the spread of COVID-19.

Kemp barnstormed the state encouraging Georgians to wear masks, socially distance and follow other public health guidelines. But he stopped short of issuing any new mandates, including a requirement for people to wear face coverings.

On Saturday, the Atlanta Braves, which recently rebooted camp to prepare for an abbreviated baseball season, announced four players — including star first baseman Freddie Freeman — have tested positive for the virus.

The team said pitchers Will Smith and Touki Toussaint and utilityman Pete Kozma also tested positive. Freeman and Kozma have symptoms, Braves manager Brian Snitker said, while Smith and Toussaint are asymptomatic.

Snitker said he applauded the players for allowing the team to release their names.

“This virus is real. It’s something we have to be aware of,” Snitker said. “It’s something that’s serious if we’re going to continue on and play our games.”

Powder Springs parade

A handful of Powder Springs residents sat in their front yards, waving to cars as they drove by in the “virtual” parade.

Few in Powder Springs wore masks as they watched the parade. But Vicki McGee did. She said she won’t take hers off in public.

“We want to have a little fun but also be careful,” she said.

During the parade, several Powder Springs residents displayed Black Lives Matter signs on their cars, to highlight racial inequities that still exist.

Photos from the parade

Tamara Woods, a member of the city’s arts and cultural affairs commission, said she had been disappointed that the city had not held a Juneteenth celebration to commemorate the emancipation of African-American slaves after the Civil War. She and her friend, Cammy Gaines, also joined the caravan of cars, displaying Black Lives Matter signs on their vehicles.

“This is a perfect day to celebrate everybody’s independence,’’ said Woods, whose great-grandfather, Luke Penn, was among the first African-Americans to own land in the city of Powder Springs. “We need to have open arms and say everyone is accepted and all races are welcomed.”

Thurman, the city’s first African American mayor elected in 2015, said he did not object to the display of Black Lives Matter signs during the patriotic drive-by.

“I don’t really have an issue with it as long as it’s peaceful,’’ Thurman said.

‘A great stepping stone’

At the King historical park, a crowd of a few hundred started marching through a driving rain storm. The racially diverse crowd ended the march at the State Capitol and demanded changes to policing and the criminal justice system.

Many called for portions of police budgets to be redirected to social work, mental health and community programs.

Demonstrators hold a rally at the Georgia State Capitol in downtown Atlanta on Saturday, July 4, 2020, calling for racial justice and reforms to the criminal justice system . J. SCOTT TRUBEY/SCOTT.TRUBEY@AJC.COM
Demonstrators hold a rally at the Georgia State Capitol in downtown Atlanta on Saturday, July 4, 2020, calling for racial justice and reforms to the criminal justice system . J. SCOTT TRUBEY/SCOTT.TRUBEY@AJC.COM

Jerri West, of Stone Mountain, was part of a group that brought refreshments for demonstrators.

“I’d normally be with my family,” he said. “My family is doing the social distancing thing. We’ll probably do a Zoom call later.”

West said he sees July Fourth becoming a regular date for Americans to rally for social justice.

“This is a great stepping stone to a great movement,” he said.

Staff writer Gabe Burns contributed to this report.