City to Host Wilmington POPS 4th of July Celebration

Wilmington Symphony Orchestra to headline festivities, fireworks set for 9:05 p.m.

The City of Wilmington invites residents and visitors to the annual July Fourth celebration, hosted at Live Oak Bank Pavilion at Riverfront Park, to enjoy live music, entertainment, food, fireworks, and more on Tuesday, July 4.  This is FREE event and no tickets are required. Food and beverages (soft drinks, beer and wine) will be available to purchase.

This year’s event, Wilmington Pops 4th of July Celebration!, will again feature the Wilmington Symphony Orchestra (WSO). The program includes patriotic favorites, classical selections, and current pop songs. WSO musicians, will perform throughout the event.  The WSO will be led by guest Conductor Dominic Talanca, UNCW Faculty member.

“As the son of an immigrant and first generation American, this celebration has always been very special to me, and I can’t wait to celebrate America together with this amazing community.”

Mayor Bill Saffo

“Even though we are only in our second year, it is a performance unlike any other.  What a great experience for our orchestra to look out to see the largest crowd that they have performed for in Wilmington and a wonderful chance to be the center of attention for a celebration that means so much to so many in our community.  We are so proud to be the newest part of the city’s festivities,” Wilmington Symphony Orchestra Executive Director Liz Scanlon said.

Fireworks will take place in downtown Wilmington beginning at 9:05 p.m. Fireworks will be shot from a barge located at the convergence of the Cape Fear & Northeast Cape Fear Rivers, just north of the USS Battleship North Carolina, and will be viewable along the downtown riverfront.

Images from last year’s celebration.

“Year after year, Wilmington residents and visitors rightfully flock to downtown on July 4th to celebrate Independence Day with a fabulous fireworks show over the river. The addition of Riverfront Park two years ago and our partnership with the Wilmington Symphony Orchestra last year have enhanced the experience. As the son of an immigrant and first generation American, this celebration has always been very special to me, and I can’t wait to celebrate America together with this amazing community,” said Mayor Bill Saffo.

The  4th of July Celebration is free and open to the public. Funding for the event is made possible by the City of Wilmington, New Hanover County, and  Wilmington Symphony Orchestra. Cumulus Media is the event’s media sponsor.


5:00 p.m. – Gates Open

5:00 p.m. – 6:30 pm – Music provided by Cumulus Media

6:30 p.m. – Rukus (musical entertainment)

7:30 p.m. –  Wilmington Symphony Orchestra

9:05 p.m.  –  Fireworks will take place at 9:05 pm 

About the Symphony:

The Wilmington Symphony Orchestra provides symphonic music at the highest degree of excellence through performance opportunities for regional musicians and educational programs for our community’s youth. For information about WSO, Inc., visit

Event Reminders:

  • Fireworks are best viewed along the Riverwalk.
  • No outside food or drink
  • This is cashless event.   Food and beverage sales only accept debit, credit or mobile pay (Apple Pay or Google Pay)
  • Public may bring beach chairs (with legs no longer than 9 inches) or blankets
  • No animals allowed inside the venue with the exception of registered, working service animals.

For more information visit or call 910.772.4177.

Williston Legacy Graduation: Honoring The Classes of ’69 & ’70

The City of Wilmington’s Equity and Inclusion Office has worked with county and school district partners to collaboratively host a Legacy Graduation for the Williston Senior High School classes of 1969 and 1970, scheduled for July 1 at 2 p.m. at the Williston Middle School Gymnasium. The ceremony will be streamed live on and on WECT’s Facebook page.

The school district’s desegregation plans in the late 1960s did not provide an opportunity for these classes to graduate from their historic school, with district officials abruptly closing the senior high in 1968 and repurposing the building.

Mayor Bill Saffo said the graduation ceremony will provide a long-belated chance to honor these graduates’ connection to “the greatest school under the sun.” In a message to graduates, Saffo praised their courage in the face of racism and the “innumerable contributions each of [these graduates have] already made here in Wilmington and beyond,” while expressing regret that it has taken over 50 years to formally recognize them as Williston alumni.

In the weeks leading up to the graduation ceremony, New Hanover County Schools has been sharing the stories of the alumni who lived through those turbulent years. Read more of their stories here.

Phillip Clay, Ph.D., will serve as keynote speaker. Clay is a 1964 graduate of Williston Senior High School and served as the first Black Chancellor of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

For more information on the jointly-hosted Legacy Graduation event, contact Joe Conway, the City of Wilmington’s Chief Equity and Inclusion Officer (, or visit

Juneteenth Part 3: The History of Celebrating The Holiday

While there was an eagerness to celebrate the anniversary of Juneteenth, there was also fear about how those celebrations would be received, given the already existing backlash against emancipation and the fall of the Confederacy. In places like Richmond, VA, the fear was so great that the African American community made sure to advertise what they were, and were not, celebrating.

As a result, early celebrations were often held in churches and homes.

Thankfully, times have changed, and Juneteenth celebrations are flourishing across the country, including right here in Wilmington.

The Wilmington Juneteenth Committee, Inc has been organizing events recognizing the importance the Freedom Day since 1995, long before it was on the radar of most of Wilmington. The major theme of the first Wilmington Juneteenth Festival was “Family Reunion,” honoring the fact that when enslaved individuals were finally freed, one of the first things many people did was attempt to find and reunite with families. This tradition continues to resonate with Juneteenth celebrations around the country.

The first Juneteenth Festival in Wilmington involved a magnificent Juneteenth Festival Parade. The first Grand Marshal was esteemed Williston Graduate and Civil Rights hero Major General Joseph A. McNeil. McNeil, along with Franklin McCain, Ezell Blair Jr. (later known as Jibreel Khazan), and David Richmond were first-year students at the Agricultural and Technical College of North Carolina (now North Carolina A&T State University) who decided to protest segregation, beginning with the lunch counter at a Woolworth’s Department store in Greensboro. 

Each passing year saw the festival expand to include activities such as the Juneteenth Gospel Festival, a Talent Show, Dance Contest, Sweetheart Ball, Quiz Bowl, Teach-In Series, Juneteenth Queen Contest, Double Dutch Jump Rope, Sorority Step Show, and Juneteenth Urban Hike and luncheon.

Unfortunately, as with most of the country, Covid brought a halt to public celebrations for three years. However, the Juneteenth Festival made a triumphant return in 2022, increasing events and sponsorship. As a result of their tireless efforts, the City of Wilmington’s Commission on African American History awarded the Juneteenth Committee with a Living Legends Award at its annual banquet.

This year’s Juneteenth celebration promises to be the biggest of all, and the committee is thrilled it will be able to be enjoyed by more members of the Wilmington community now that the City of Wilmington has recognized Juneteenth as an official holiday. This year’s events include a gospel festival, golf tournament, teach-in, the annual Juneteenth Festival, and for the first time, a Juneteenth Breakfast.The committee is excited for its 28th celebration of this monumentally important holiday and encourages everyone to attend as many of the events as they can.

Check out the full calendar of events and consider attending the first annual Juneteenth Breakfast.

Article by Amy Schlag, Equity and Inclusion Specialist at the City of Wilmington.  This is three of a three-part series.

Council Recap: Downtown Campus Update, Urban Forest Master Plan, Healthy Homes Program

Wilmington City Council holding its first regular meeting for the month of June. First up, the Urban Forest Master Plan was presented to council.

This plan aids in prioritizing tree maintenance and is an essential tool in helping to enhance the city’s urban forest.

“And that leads to the question of why plan? In short, we plan because trees are intrinsically valuable to both individual and community well-being. The benefits trees provide are myriad and diverse,” said consultant Joe Joyner.

Next, council took their first vote on the recommended budget for fiscal year 2023-2024.

The budget does not include a tax rate increase but does include funding for the potential purchase of the northern downtown campus.

Council will take its second and final vote on June 20th.

The budget goes into effect on July 1st.

Lastly, council approved the creation of a Healthy Homes program.

This program will assist eligible homeowners in addressing health and safety issues in their housing units and is funded by a $1.5 million grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).

City Council will meet again on June 20th at 6:30 p.m.

For more on this meeting, visit