How did you celebrate Independence Day this year? For many people, the Fourth of July is a time to grab a lawn chair and watch the Champaign County Freedom Celebration Parade. For Overia Barringer it was a time to don an ornate patriotic costume and join the parade march. From 1949 to at least 1978, Barringer participated in the parade every year.
Many onlookers remember her as an essential part of the annual parade, but might be curious to know more about her. Thanks to a handful of local newspaper articles in the Archives, we now know a bit more of her story. Overia Barringer was born on Thanksgiving Day in 1892. Some described her as deeply religious and hardworking. She studied at Moody Bible Institute and received nursing training at Dailey’s Hospital in Chicago. In 1955, she founded her own church in her home at 407 E Washington Street in Champaign. Her church was called Calvary Methodist Temple. For over twenty years she planned and worked to establish a nursing home by adding a second floor to her home/church. It is not clear whether or not that project was ever completed.
Parading was very important to Barringer. She participated in many out-of-town parades, as well as local ones, including some in Chicago. Each year she marched in a new dress that she made herself, without a pattern, and often wore a hat with red, white, and blue plumes. She kept all of the dresses from the previous years. Each July 4, Barringer would wake up at 3am to prepare for the two mile march, which she walked on foot until 1967 when she began riding in a Cadillac convertible provided by the celebration committee.
In 1974, Barringer expressed her desire to participate in the parade for the country’s 200th birthday. Two years later, when she was 84 years old, that wish was fulfilled. By that time, she was a resident of the Americana Health Center of Champaign and her friends at the nursing home helped make her stars and stripes dress. That same year, Barringer told a Courier newspaper reporter that she is full-blooded Cherokee. She said, “This is my nation, my people and I’m proud of it because we founded it.” When asked why she parades every year, she said: “Because I know it should be done. I represent the United States of America. Why shouldn’t I feel strongly about it? This is our day.”
The most recent image we have of Barringer in the Archives was taken at her 29th Freedom Celebration Parade, July 4, 1978 (below). Our search found that she passed away in June 1982 in Aurora, Illinois.
This blog post was inspired by a reference question we received in the Archives. Do you have a question to ask an Archivist? Let us know.