One of the first warm and sunny days of the season greeted the 11th annual African-American History Celebration Saturday, as Franklin Square came alive with festivity.
Retired Chapman Elementary School teacher Lorine Banks served as grand marshal of the annual parade Saturday morning, a traditionally spirited, modest affair that precedes the Saturday morning ribbon cutting.
Clerk of Courts Marcia Johnson and Property Appraiser Rhonda Skipper represented county officials in the parade, which featured plenty of beads thrown from the cars and golf carts but less candy than typically is flung.
The mood was sweet and upbeat though, even when organizers had to “figuratively cut the ribbon” on the festival from the main stage at 11 a.m.
Covenant Word Pastor David Walker offered a blessing over the festival, followed by a collective rendition by a chorus of members of H’COLA of “Lift Evry Voice and Sing,” considered the Negro National Anthem.
The non-profit community action group H’COLA, which stands for Hillside Coalition of Laborers for Apalachicola, has been the force behind the festival for the past 11 years, held the third weekend in February, to celebrate the contributions to society made by both national and local African-Americans.
Van Johnson, the city’s first African-American mayor, offered a welcome that touched on the larger issues of civil rights in the nation’s history.
“We gather to gauge how far we have come as a society since the institution of slavery, Jim Crow laws and racial imbalance marred the landscape of this great nation founded upon the principles of liberty and justice for all,” he said. “We gather not to relive past hurts or injustices, but to determine for ourselves after 238 years since the signing of the Declaration of Independence whether this great nation, a melting pot of humanity, can justifiably call itself the sweet land of liberty.
“And we gather 151 years after President Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation to ensure that our children, and our children’s children will be able to continue to sing ‘Long may our land be bright with freedom’s holy light; Protect us by Thy might, Great God, our King.’” Johnson said.
The Baby Boomers who form the heart of the event’s organizers gathered Friday night at the Sixth Street Recreation Center for a ‘70s Bash, bringing back that era at a party that used to be held the Friday before Labor Day.
“It was neat, we had a good turnout,” said Elinor Mount-Simmons, who helped coordinate the festival. “A lot of folks came.”
As the morning events commenced, Franklin County High School co-valedictorian Bria Walker, and salutatorian Jathan Martin read President Obama’s proclamation for Black History Month, and then Banks was introduced as grand marshall.
Also introduced was the Royal Court, who included Tiny Miss Hillside Aubriunna Davis and Tiny Mr. Hillside Antrell O’Neal; Miss Hillside Alonna Brown; Hillside Princess Arryonna Cargill; and Hillside Queen Trianna Lockley.
As a basketball tournament energized the nearby courts, the event continued with plenty of food booths, including one serving curried and jerked chicken, and goat, as well as booths from Franklin’s Promise Coalition, the Apalachicola library, the health department’s anti-tobacco program, and FAMU Physics Professor Ronald Williams, who offered hands-on science demonstrations.
The Hillside Talent Showcase featured original music artist Courtney “C-bell” Bell, and there was the traditional ethnic fashion show, coordinated by Sherry O’Neal, plus this year line dancing led by Dan Savage and Asenath Thomas. Also performing were the dance ministries of Hillside Dancers for Christ, a community based troupe directed by Teresa Ann Martin, and True Love and Heavenly Angels, troupes from the Friendship Missionary Baptist Church.
Members of Tallahassee’s Valentine Lodge No. 147 of the F & AM Masonic Order, were on hand to promote their hopes of reviving what once was a vibrant Masonic lodge on the Hill up until the 1980s.
The musical group Sharper 5, from Valdosta, Ga., under the direction of Eric Sharper, got the crowd on its feet as evening rolled in.
The event closed Saturday night at 8 p.m., and Mount-Simmons said plans are to move the featured entertainment to earlier in the afternoon.
“It’s still wintertime and once the sun goes down, it gets cold,” she said. “The gates now close at 8 p.m., which is a great time to end up.”
A worship service on Sunday at noon drew from nearly all the churches on the Hill, with the featured speaker Roderick Robinson, the high school’s guidance counselor. He spoke on a comparison of slavery of biblical days to slavery in the United States.
“We were pleased with this year’s event,” said Mount-Simmons. “We had gorgeous weather and people were moving in all day long.”