The N.C. Fourth of July Festival and United States Department of Homeland Security United States Citizenship and Immigration Services presented the festival’s annual Naturalization Ceremony the afternoon of July 3.

Seventy-five citizens from 35 countries around the world gathered in Southport to take their Oath of Allegiance to America and become United States citizens.

Due to inclement weather, the event was not held on the Fort Johnston lawn as it typically is, under a large tent beginning with entertainment by The Brunswick Big Band and a firing of the cannon Thor: instead, it was moved indoors to the Southport Community Building, which was packed wall to wall with those becoming American citizens that day, their families and friends, and well-wishers from the community.

The event, which was supposed to start at 4 p.m., began early with a welcome by Ted Carlsen, co-chairman of the event, followed by the posting of the colors by the Town of Shallotte Fire Department.

After the National Anthem was led by vocalist Cassie McKee, Southport Mayor J.V. Dove spoke to attendees, thanking the U.S. Magistrate Judge Robert B. Jones, Eastern District, for serving again this year for the ceremony, as well as area elected officials.

Dove told the crowd Fort Johnston, just outside the building, was a bulwark of freedom and the Cape Fear River guided people to a new life in a new country.

“Those people believed in freedom, just as you did,” said Dove. “Here in America, with hard work and perseverance, you can have a better life.”

Dove concluded by telling the 75 about-to-be-citizens, “Welcome to Southport, welcome to America, and thank you for being here.”

The keynote address was given by Brunswick County Board of Commissioners Chairman Frank Williams,who said when he received the invitation to speak at the ceremony he knew it was the most important one he had ever received.

Williams told the audience he had gone online and taken the Citizenship Practice Test and that it was not easy. He encouraged others to also take the test online.

“We are here to honor new citizens,” Williams stated. “I was born into citizenship. Most of us (who were born into citizenship) don’t value as it as much as as those who have worked so hard.

“America truly is the land of the free,” he said, and referred to the National Anthem lyric “bombs bursting in air,” as thunder boomed outside of the community building.

Williams said that America is about freedom and that it came at a high price and has been preserved at a high price.

“Freedom needs advocates and defenders,” Williams told the crowd, “and I challenge the rest of us to be as vocal as the new citizens.”

Judge Robert B. Jones presided over the ceremony, and told attendees that the people who had gathered that day came from a laundry list of countries, but “at the end of this day, the are now united in the bond of citizenship.”

He invited family members and friends to take photographs while the Oath of Allegiance was read. After the reading was finished, there were applause and Judge Jones congratulated the new citizens on their achievement.

He explained the gifts they received that day: the Bill of Rights; the freedom to worship, or not worship; the right to say what they wish; and the right to own property that the government cannot take away.

“You are now free people, free to exercise these rights,” Judge Jones stated.

He concluded with, “Now we are all citizens of one country. I congratulate you, my fellow citizens of the United States of America. This court is adjourned.”

Due to the number of attendees, new citizens and their families were asked to remain at the community building so they could be called individually to be presented with their certificates of citizenship. Each citizen also received a flag from a member of the local DAR chapter, which also provided a reception for the new citizens and their families.

Some people took day trips to Southport to receive their citizenship, like Virginia Rodriguez from Fayetteville, who has lived in the United States since 1980 and started the process to become a citizen in January. And Ricardo Salinas drove to town for the day with his mother and two sons. He moved to America when he was eight years old, and at 38 is now a citizen.

“I was really happy,” he said of receiving his citizenship. “I was proud when I got my certificate.”

Others didn’t have to travel far at all, like Susan Winne.

At age 7, Winne moved to the United States 51 years ago from the United Kingdom. Her father got an engineering job in America and she grew up here. She applied in February and when she received her citizenship certificate, the Ocean Isle resident and mother of six said she was excited, “like a little kid, again.” That night she, her husband and five of her children (the sixth is in the Air Force in Arizona) planned to celebrate with a cookout—if the weather cooperated.

At least one other Ocean Isle resident received her citizenship certificate that day: Katheryn Monte, who came with her husband Dennis, stepson Victor, and friends in tow.

“This is great!” Dennis stated. He had helped her study and prepare for the test and fill out forms, and her friends also gave her sample tests. Dennis and Katheryn both spoke about how wonderful the people working in USIS (Unites States Immigration Services) have been.

Originally from Vancouver, Canada, Katheryn moved to the United States seven years ago and was ecstatic at the ceremony.

“We will be celebrating a long time!” she said.