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Black Heritage Festival celebrates culture and diversity

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Written By: Darlene J. Swiger  12/9/15

CLARKSBURG — For the 25th anniversary of the West Virginia Black Heritage Festival, officials honored past royalty during opening ceremonies on the Harrison County Courthouse plaza Saturday.

Jim Griffin, chairman of the festival board of directors, recited the names of former kings and queens, with those in attendance standing on stage to be recognized.

Although the festival was moved to downtown Clarksburg because of its steady growth over the years, Griffin said organizers will never forget their roots on Water Street, renamed E.B. Saunders Way.

The street was named in honor of the former principal of Kelly Miller High School, a school for black children that was located there. Saunders served as principal from 1919-1956, when the school closed due to integration.

Clarksburg Mayor Cathy Goings thanked the festival board for its decision to move the celebration to downtown, where more people were in attendance to celebrate the culture and diversity of the black community.

Harrison County Commission President Ron Watson and Jessica Sell from U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin’s office also brought well wishes for a wonderful weekend celebration.

Mt Zion Church Pastor Rahsaan Armand recited an excerpt from the Emancipation Proclamation, which brought applause from all.

Joy Singleton, festival treasurer, said moving the festival was a great idea.

“Everything is more spread out, and there seems to be a bigger attendance. We have over 40 vendors this year,” said Singleton, who has been involved with the event for more than a decade.

Justin Williams of Clarksburg was displaying his artwork, ranging from the realistic to the abstract, at a festival booth.

“This is my first-year show. It’s my first year of showing anything anywhere,” said the Liberty High School graduate.

A variety of food was available.

Darryl Daggs brought his Good Times BBQ from of Bristol, Tenn. His wife, Jennifer Amos Daggs, is from Clarksburg.

“We’ve talked about doing this for two or three years,” she said as she served a plate with a pork sandwich, baked beans and cole slaw. “This is our first time to be at the festival.”

Russ Goings of Kingwood, who also has a restaurant in Morgantown, was serving Russ’ Ribs at the festival for the third year.

“I’m a music enthusiast,” Goings said. “I’m black, and I want to relate to my black heritage. I also like the camaraderie, food and togetherness of everybody enjoying a day of fun without stress. It’s good to see people coming together for fun.”

Dr. Jan Singleton, 2006 Black Heritage Queen, also said she appreciates the sense of community at the festival.

“People from all over the community are coming out to have fun. There are very few things that bring out the whole community,” she said.

Corliss Barksdale of Hepzibah comes to the festival every year for the Saturday night headline music.

“I liked it on Water Street by the church and the old high school. There are so many memories there,” she said.

As part of the festival, the Sankofa African-American Museum on Wheels is set up at the Progressive Women’s Association Event Center behind the courthouse.

Angela Jennings of South Carolina, owner and curator, said it took her more than 30 years to amass her large collection from all over the world. It tells the African-American story from slavery to the White House.

Source: The Exponent Telegram

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