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July 4 Parade Important in Historic Kentucky Coal Town

 

 

July 4, 2021 - A century after immigrants representing more than 30 nationalities came to this coal town deep in Appalachia in search of the American dream, Lynch, Kentucky still throws a darn good celebration of patriotism and country.


The historic Harlan County town held its annual Fourth of July parade Saturday with nearly 30 units — everything from a city fire truck and classic cars, to pickup trucks pulling trailers decked out with U.S. flags and red, white and blue bunting, to a Girl Scout troop and even 3-year-old Blake Harrison riding a tricycle.


Not bad for a town of less than 600 people. 

 

 
“We just love our community,” said Bethany Hatfield, a teacher who walked in the parade helping carry a banner that read “Let Freedom Ring.” Her mother’s business, Highly Favored Flowers in Cumberland, sponsored a decorated pickup truck in the parade.


“We’re proud of where we come from and we want to keep our traditions alive,” Hatfield said.


Many people sat on their porches or in vehicles and lawn chairs along Main Street to watch the parade pass.


Julia Johnson, who lives in neighboring Benham, roused her 11-year-old daughter, Julionna, and her grandsons Robbie and Julian to attend. At a time of deep political division, she felt it was important.


“Show’m some patriotism,” Johnson said.


U.S. Steel created Lynch from whole cloth beginning in 1917 in what was then a relatively isolated valley near the highest peak in Kentucky.


The company, which owned the town, built hundreds of houses and everything needed to support the mining operation, including stores, schools, a hotel, a hospital, a baseball field, a fire station, water and power plants and industrial buildings.


It was the world’s largest coal town, with a population of about 10,000, including people who arrived from many countries in Europe and African-Americans from the South who came for work.


The company put on events to occupy the miners, including concerts, sports events and parades.


“Lynch was a booming town at one time,” said Gail Elliott, wife of 74-year-old Don Elliott, a longtime U.S. Steel employee who was grand marshal of this year’s parade.


U.S. Steel sold the town about 60 years ago, and it declined as coal jobs withered and people moved away.


The downturn started decades ago, but coal jobs plunged quickly after 2011.


There were 1,367 mining jobs in Harlan County in 2012, down 37 percent in just a year, but by the first quarter of this year there were just 337 coal jobs left in the county, according to the state Energy and Environment Cabinet.


At some point, the parades stopped.


Some longtime residents said they couldn’t recall parades in the 1960s, though Eric Rutherford, who with his wife Sissy runs Lamp House Coffee in town, said he understood the events stopped in the mid-1970s.


“When the mining company left, all that left with them,” Rutherford said.


The coffee shop now sponsors the July 4th parade. Meridzo Center, a Christian ministry based in Lynch, created the coffee shop to provide jobs.


Sissy Rutherford had the idea to bring back a local Independence Day parade as a way of creating some hope in the old coal town. That’s part of the mission of Meridzo, Eric Rutherford said.


The first one was in 2014.


No one knew how many people would show up to participate or watch, but it turned out to be a good event, Rutherford said.


“Whoever wasn’t in the parade watched the parade,” Rutherford said.


Anyone can take part. People decorate ATVs, motorcycles and golf carts to be in the procession.


“It’s everyone just pitching in,” said Mayor Justin Wren.


The parade started this year at the Lynch Church of God, which had several units in the line-up, and ended at a city park, where there was a patriotic program and free food.