Augusta, GA (WJBF)- Tree lightings, Christmas parades and other holiday events are in full swing right now.
On this month’s Hometown History, we look at the history of the Augusta Christmas parade on Broad Street.
Although no one is sure exactly when the annual tradition of the Augusta Christmas parade started–
I was able to find out that Augusta has held a parade during the holidays as far back as 1905.
For so many Augusta families– this is the tradition that starts the holidays.
“When my dad would set me up in a chair and I could sit there and I could see the whole parade and that was Christmas,” Carroll Proctor.
The Augusta Christmas Parade used to be organized by the Augusta Jaycees as one of many community projects.
Carroll Proctor was the Chairman of the Augusta Jaycees Christmas Fantasy Parade from 1984 to 1993. He said the parade has always been an ever changing event– from the parade route to the day of the week it was held.
“We switched sides of the road. Adjusted things for TV time, and moved it, I think from a Saturday to a Sunday.”
Margaret Woodard is the Executive Director of the Downtown Development Authority, who now organizes the parade. She said the Christmas tree lighting with fireworks and the parade were all part of a one day festival in the past. Now they are two separate events and she thinks that’s a good thing for downtown Augusta.
“Because now we have an opportunity for people to come down twice during the Christmas season,” she said.
During Proctor’s time as organizer, he wanted to make sure the parade was aimed at the children watching it go by and not as a means of advertisement for local business.
“So my rule was, the parade had to bring alive the fantasies of Christmas for children. So if you wanted to put in your company vehicle, that was great. But it had to be towing a float,” Proctor explained.
Proctor told me that when he took over the Miss Augusta Scholarship Pageant, the Jaycees planned to make someone else the chairman of the parade, but he objected.
“It become a love. I could have given it up many times. And when I took over being the chairman of the Miss Augusta Pageant, they’re like we’ll get somebody else to…I said nope, I’m keeping the parade. That was my happy spot.”
The parade is a huge community event, but it is also a fundraiser. It raised money for Miss Augusta for decades. Now funds from the parade go towards helping children and families.
“About three years ago, Ronald McDonald House took over the parade…they’re the recipient of the funds,” said Woodard.
According to Woodard, the parade is a labor of love between the DDA and the city of Augusta.
“Well first of all, it’s not just us. The city of Augusta is our partner in this event. I want to be very clear about that. And they are great. We enjoy doing it and we just all work together. It’s a collaborative event,” she explained.
Both Woodard and Proctor agree that you have to be prepared for anything when it comes to the parade. Proctor remembered that when he was heading it, a hate group tried to enter the parade and he had to figure out how to handle it.
“And we were faced with having to get with Mary Lou Garrett and Mayor (Charles) Devaney and Pete Brody at the time to discuss how do we… we even went so far as an organization, we were going to cancel the parade if we couldn’t find a way for this group not to be in it.”
Woodard hasn’t run into anything like that, but had an amusing traffic jam during the last parade.
“The first time we did a night time parade right as the parade was making a right on 6th Street to go to the Municipal Building, to get picked up and load up in their busses, is when a train came through,” Woodard said. “And so, I’ve got to give it to Richmond County Sheriff’s Office. They were able to manage that.
Decades ago the parade was held after dark, then it moved to the daytime. In 2019, the parade was at night once again.
Woodard thinks it is better that way. Proctor agrees.
“It is just so magical to have the decorations on all the poles lit up, and the store fronts lit up and the beautiful floats going down Broad Street. I think night time makes it pretty special,” said Woodard.
“I think it was always beautiful downtown at night with the lights and stuff like that. My preference before I gave it up was always that it was a night time parade,” said Proctor.
The parade will be held this year on Saturday, December 11th at 6 p.m. on Broad Street. The parade route begins on upper Broad Street and proceeds between 7th and 13th Streets.
Hey Augusta– that’s just part of your Hometown History.
Photojournalist: Reggie Mckie.