Freddie’s Back: But parade turnout disappoints

Published: Monday, May 18, 2009
By Rachael Scarborough King, Register Staff

NEW HAVEN — A year after the Freddie Fixer Parade was canceled because of concerns about violence, the tradition returned Sunday with a smaller event that many hoped would bring bigger crowds next year.

Walter Hammie, owner of Reliable Liquor Store on Dixwell Avenue, said the parade “wasn’t what we were used to.” Hammie said he has been attending the parade for years and remembered when bands would come from as far away as Richmond, Va., to participate.

“It used to be a whole weekend (of events) and this was the climax of it,” Hammie said. “Really, it was the largest black parade in America, right here in New Haven.”

The parade almost did not happen again this year, as organizers said they needed to raise up to $50,000 toward the cost of overtime for police. Although the event came off, it was on a shorter route than in the past, along Dixwell between Morse Street and Lake Place.

Hammie said he thought organizers should try to return to the roots of the parade and rebuild community support for the event. To that end, a community cleanup was held in the Hill, Dwight and Dixwell neighborhoods May 9.

The parade began in the 1960s under the leadership of Dr. Fred Smith and the Dixwell Redevelopment Agency as a community spring cleaning.

Although the Freddie Fixer Parade has been one of the premiere African-American events in New England, the crowds Sunday were sparse.

Thomasena Denny, who said she attends the parade every year, said the combination of poor weather and a lack of knowledge about the event resuming this year might have contributed to low attendance.

“I think it’s a good event for people because it brings all the pride out,” she said. “It’s something to keep a tradition going on and on. We all got to get together and come together as one.”

Denny said she did not think the parade was the cause of violent events in the past. The day had been marred in recent years by a fatal shooting and injuries when a motorcycle went into a crowd, and last year a string of shootings in the weeks before the event led to its cancellation.

“If the people feel like they’re going to fight or shoot, that’s what they’re going to do,” Denny said. “It doesn’t have anything to do with the parade.”

Sunday’s event was the 46th time the parade has taken place. It featured music, dancers and performers, and was also accompanied by the “Drill-O-Rama” at Blake Field on State Street and a community basketball game at Wilbur Cross High School.

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