Annual parade rocks downtown Winchester on Labor Day

Published 2:00 pm Thursday, September 7, 2023

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While much of Kentucky spent Monday enjoying a holiday, Winchester turned out for one of its favorite annual traditions.

The Winchester Labor Day Parade returned on Monday, and the floats and performances from the George Rogers Clark, Simmons College and Kentucky State University marching bands were a hit with the large crowd assembled downtown.

According to a member of its planning committee, the parade, now in its 119th year, has a notable distinction.

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“It is the longest-running parade in the history of the state of Kentucky,” said Sherry Hampton, the Winchester Labor Day Committee’s public relations director. “It has been going for 119 years. It is something that the entire town is proud of, and it is something that could not happen without the help of the community and the bands.”

The parade holds a special place in the history of Winchester’s Black community.

“The parade started back in 1904,” Hampton said. “It was something on a very small scale because we were not allowed to do a lot of things. So our ancestors got together a three-piece band; they had one baton girl, or so I’ve been told…They would march through town toward Harmon Field and then have a picnic basket lunch.”

Many Winchester residents, including Charlene Shackleford, have been part of the parade for generations.

“I’ve been on the committee for several years. I’ve ridden horses and driven tractors. You name it in the parade, and I’ve done it,” Shackleford said.

Several of Shackleford’s nieces and nephews have gotten into the tradition of helping out, which pleases her greatly.

“It is an honor to see it still in progress,” Shackleford said about the parade.

For many, including Shackleford’s brother David Stewart, the parade and weekend festivities mark a homecoming.

“This is what we are used to doing, coming home on Labor Day,” said Stewart, who traveled from Louisiana to attend. “You get to see family and friends you have not seen for a while. There is all that connection again.”

Former Winchester Mayor Ed Burtner said the parade makes a statement about community unity.

“It is a testament to the community as a whole that it is occurring and that it is supported and that so many people come out,” Burtner said. “It really is a coming together for the community, I think.”

The amount of local youth participating in the parade impressed Burtner.

“One of the things that they emphasize is getting young people involved. They did it this year with GRC athletic teams. The bulk of the parade are very young people…and it is a memory that they will take with them for the rest of their lives,” Burtner said.

The parade’s grand marshals were the athletics teams from George Rogers Clark High School.

Parade committee members said they wanted to honor all the athletic achievements the school has garnered over the past few years.

Before the parade, GRC football’s assistant offensive line coach, Vernon Shearer, spoke about what athletics means to the community.

“Sports and athletics are a way for these kids to better themselves not only as people but as athletes,” Shearer said.

As the committee looks toward planning the 120th parade, the hope remains that the celebration will continue to grow.

“We don’t want to go away, we want to keep getting bigger and better, and broaden our parade and activities,” Hampton said.