Vidalia keeps holiday tradition alive with Memorial Day parade

Published 12:14 am Friday, June 3, 2016

In a region filled with spectacular views, few equal the view of the annual Memorial Day parade crossing the Mississippi River bridge.

What starts with about 100 people marching down Magnolia Street in Vidalia, quickly grows into a large mass of people headed across the river toward the Natchez National cemetery.

Memorial Day parade organizer Eddie Coleman calls the parade a “phenomenon.” After seeing the wave of people crest the bridge Monday morning, I cannot disagree.

Email newsletter signup

The sight of hundreds of people cross into Mississippi all to pay honor and respect to the men and women who died to protect our country is a humbling sight. It is especially gratifying to know that residents from Vidalia have been marching to the Natchez National Cemetery for 150 years. Without Vidalia there would be no Memorial Day parade like we know it today.

As far back as 1867, Vidalia residents gathered at the ferry landing to cross the Mississippi River to the boat landing in Natchez. From Natchez-Under-the-Hill the parade continued up Silver Street and continued to the cemetery. Residents started marching the entire way to the cemetery after the first Mississippi River bridge was built in 1940.

Memorial Day parades were once commonplace in towns and cities across America. Many are no more, which makes Vidalia’s longevity even more incredible.

The history of the parade caught the attention of James Theres, a historian and speechwriter for the National Cemetery Administration, who traveled from Washington, D.C., to see the parade and speak to the Memorial Day crowds gathered at the Natchez National Cemetery.

Theres said his research shows that the parade that originates in Vidalia is the oldest continuously running Memorial Day celebration in the U.S. To document and commemorate the event, Theres arranged for film crews to come to the Miss-Lou to cover the event.

Members of the Louisiana National Guard Youth Challenge Program traveled from Alexandria, La., to be a part of the parade’s 150th anniversary.

Also helping to mark this year’s event were La. Rep. Andy Anders from Clayton, U.S. Rep. Ralph Abraham from Alto, La., and U.S. Rep. Charles Boustany from Lafayette, La. The three lawmakers marched behind the color guard, leading the hundreds of other residents who joined along the way.

Even though there was great attention from many who live and work outside of the Miss-Lou, the stars of the parade were the many local organizers and residents from Vidalia who work hard to celebrate, honor and respect the veterans to whom the Memorial holiday is dedicated.

Each year, members of Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 590 and the Woman’s Relief Corps. lead the organization effort.

Local youth organize a marching band filled with drums, cymbals, trumpets and other instruments. Joining them is a group of young women who practice their dance moves for weeks in advance.

They begin the day in Vidalia with the “Star Spangled Banner” and march and dance all the way to the Natchez National Cemetery where they end playing a beautiful rendition of “Nearer my God to Thee.”

The parade originates in Vidalia and concludes in Natchez, but the veterans who sacrificed all for freedom are the most important part. Thanks to all who help us not forget each Memorial Day holiday


Ben Hillyer is the news editor of The Natchez Democrat. He can be reached at 601-445-3540 or by email at