Former mayor to lead Christmas parade

Published 6:00 am Tuesday, November 18, 2008

The father of Brookhaven’s modern Christmas parade has beenchosen as the 2008 grand marshal. And when he leads the festiveline of floats through downtown on Dec. 4, the parade will havecome full circle.

Harold Samuels, 85, a former Brookhaven mayor from 1977-1985 andformer president of the Brookhaven-Lincoln County Chamber ofCommerce, resurrected and refined the Christmas parade in itsmodern form when he took on the duties of parade chairman in1953.

He remained the parade’s chief organizer for 33 years until 1985- continuing in the work while he served as mayor – and the paradeformula has scarcely been deviated from since.

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“It’s a mighty nice honor,” Samuels said of being named grandmarshal. “When they called to tell me, I went and thankedthem.”

Samuels said he was impressed with the way the Christmas paradehas developed in the 23 years since he gave up the duties, praisingthe coordination of current parade chairwoman Rita Rich, whoselects the grand marshal annually.

“They do a good job – maybe even a better job than I did,”Samuels remarked.

Everything that goes into Brookhaven’s modern Christmas parades,however, is built on Samuels’ work. He said the first Christmasparade he organized in 1953 consisted of lots of cars, three floatsand a fire truck – and the main attraction that year was borrowedfrom Hazlehurst.

“I friend of mine suggested I take over the Christmas parade,and I said I’d try but if I don’t get at least three floats, I’mnot doing it,” Samuels said.

Samuels said he took over as parade chairman with only weeksremaining before the parade was scheduled, starting from scratch.Since Hazlehurst held its Christmas parade a week beforeBrookhaven’s, he made the trip to scrounge what he could.

Once there, Samuels said the Hazlehurst High School Band had themost impressive float, so he enticed them with a shot at the grandprize back home – $50 – promising to cover the cost of the trip ifthey didn’t attend Brookhaven’s parade.

The band accepted, sent its float to Brookhaven and won thecompetition.

The parade has earned its place in Brookhaven, and for the nextfew years was held on a Saturday morning in December, following asimple route that basically made one circle around downtown andreturned to the staging area at Brookhaven High School.

But the parade grew in size and popularity, and soon changeswere needed.

“After a few years, I got it built up,” Samuels said. “We hadseven or eight floats and about five bands, so we needed a biggerarea for the floats.”

Not only did Samuels have more floats, he had bands fromBrookhaven, Alexander High School, Copiah-Lincoln Community Collegeand even guest bands from Utica Junior College (now Hinds CommunityCollege) and Alcorn State University.

Samuels also began laying down reformed parade law, eliminatingautomobiles from parade participation except those that hostedelected officials and Santa Claus, who – in those days – wasferried to downtown via train caboose from the marshalling yards tothe depot on Whitworth Avenue, where a convertible waited.

To accommodate the increased length, Samuels’ parade beganforming up down West Cherokee Street, beginning at the post office,and does so to this day. The simple looping route was changed toits current form as well, dissecting downtown on severalstreets.

“After we got so many bands and floats, getting it togetherwasn’t the problem – getting it lined up was the problem!” Samuelssaid.

Though the longtime brains of the Christmas parade, Samuels wasa humble organizer and only participated in the festivities once -when Santa’s driver was a no-show. Even then he only rode in thecar, assigning good friend and parade-organizing partner the lateJohn “Dub” Sproles to the wheel.

In three weeks, Samuels will participate in the parade again,riding behind parade spearhead Mallory Mills, who is this year’sMiss Merry Christmas.

“I did it and I enjoyed doing it,” Samuels said of his manyyears organizing the parade. “I enjoyed seeing all these kids andpeople enjoy the Christmas spirit – especially the children, whichthe parade is built around. I love to see so many peopleparticipating.”

Rich said Samuels fits the mold of grand marshal perfectly dueto his years of involvement in, and commitment to, the city.

“This is just a way of honoring his service and all he’s givento Brookhaven and Lincoln County,” she said. “He was chosen becauseof his longevity and service to the community. He’s been a veryactive person. I want him to enjoy this parade.”

Rich said parade participants would be throwing decorative beadsinstead of candy this year, and the parade’s Santa Claus will tosswooden nickels bearing Brookhaven’s Sesquicentennial stamp.