COLORADO CITY, Ariz. - The sounds of singing, laughing, and playing filled Cottonwood Park on Saturday, and that’s something that hasn’t happened there in more than 15 years.
More than 3,000 people gathered for the Short Creek 4th of July celebration. Organizers said they planned the event as a way for those who had previously left the FLDS Church to come back together and celebrate freedom and unity.
“It’s empowered us to love one another, be kind,” said event organizer George Jessop of the freedom perspective. “It’s given us the freedom to be kind, even though we may not all believe the same.”
The event featured free food, entertainment and games. Lifelong Colorado City resident Esther Barlow said the gathering let her interact with relatives she hasn’t seen in decades.
“It’s pretty crazy, just because it’s been a really long time,” Barlow said. “It’s been since I was a little kid that I’ve seen this many people get together.”
Often when families either leave or are kicked out of the FLDS Church, they’re told not to contact family. Attendees also said Warren Jeffs prohibited celebration of Independence day or similar holidays.
Jessop said one of the most inspiring things to him about the gathering was the support they’ve received. Hundreds of dollars in donations meant all the food and entertainment was free. He said it shows him that people care about the cause of family.
“It makes me feel pretty humble in the little part that I’ve had in it,” Jessop said. “It shows them that they have the power to love one another. To at least be kind.”
A majority of those who attended still have family in the FLDS Church. They said the celebration is also a message to those family members.
Earlier this week, FLDS Church members were seen building a massive wall around a meetinghouse in the area, with some speculating the wall was a reaction to Saturday's celebration. Click here for more details.