Glimpse of past and future

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, November 19, 2003

MURFREESBORO – This marks the sixth year that the African-American Festival has been available to the community. The festival’s organizer, Anne Eley Riddick who has been a long-time collector of historical African-American items, says that to her, this event is not just a once a year endeavor.

Riddick brought a myriad of items ranging from old photographs of the first African-American Air Force, during the time of segregation, to the &uot;Addy&uot; doll, which was the first black doll of its kind.

The event took place last Saturday with a variety of vendors, in the Hertford County Middle School gym, offering more than just trinkets and boutique items.

&uot;I wanted to turn my collection into something useful for the community,&uot; said Riddick. &uot;It gives me a chance to share a piece of history with the next generation and allows me to do something positive and educational for the community.&uot;

Among the vendors was James Ampah, from Ghana, West Africa. Ampah, now a resident of Charlotte, has been selling his authentic native African designs on a part-time basis, for special events, private shows and fundraisers, such as these, for the past two years.

&uot;My father hand carved these,&uot; said Ampah pointing to a variety of beautifully hand carved masks and figurines. &uot;My family sends them to me to sell here and when I make a profit, I send it home to them.&uot;

Ampah said that he participates in events like this to &uot;expose the culture to a variety of people.&uot; Pointing to a hand carved pair warrior figurines, Ampah stated, &uot;This is the Massai warrior. It is made of mahogany wood. The tribe originates in Kenya.&uot;

He continued to describe various other pieces, from the Sinufu mask of protection, to the ‘Moon Face,’ a ceremonial dance mask used before weddings.

He shared historical facts about his country, stating that Ghana was the &uot;first Black-African nation to gain its independence from any British rule,&uot; and described the meaning behind the colors of the nation’s flag.

&uot;The red represents the blood that was shed by our people when we fought for independence, the yellow is for the gold that we have in our country and the green represents the fertile land.

&uot;The government is very stable there, we haven’t had a coup in over 30 years and it is ironic but the British are actually coming back to Ghana, buying land and moving there. The Catholic Church in Rome is building there too.

&uot;There are 18 million people living in 92,000 square miles and when Clinton was President, his first trip to Africa was to Ghana,&uot; said Ampah, with pride. &uot;In 1966, America built a hydro-electric system on the largest man-made lake in the whole world, in Ghana.&uot;

Ampah, who crafts doors and windows, full-time for a company in Charlotte, while selling his family treasures on the side, said that he would continue to share his culture and heritage with others. &uot;I think it is good for people to remember where they came from,&uot; he said.

Other activities at the festival included songs by students from Bearfield Primary School, dances by a step team, a clown entertaining youth with creative balloon designs, hair braiding and photography.

Roy and Margaret Stokes of RAJ Enterprises, vendors who brought items from their Virginia based store, boasted tribal figurines from East Africa along with brass figures and other collectable items.

&uot;We enjoy working with the public,&uot; said Mr. Stokes. &uot;We participate in various festivals and other events in an effort to network with people that have a variety of interests. We try to make it enjoyable for everyone and include things for the children as well.&uot;

The Stokes, who have been in business for four years, stated that the attire worn by the figurines, &uot;is exactly what tribal people wear today.&uot;

‘Love’ was also present at the Grace of God Gifts booth operated by owners, Kim and Grady Love.

The Loves shared Inspirational books, nicknacks and Biblical items. &uot;God gave us this gift giving ministry,&uot; said Mrs. Love. &uot;The ministry was born when we started out of our home by giving bags, boxes and baskets prepared with Christian and inspirational items as gifts. Today, it has grown into a way for us to share God’s Word and love with others in need in a variety of venues. We travel to flea markets, craft shows and festivals sharing much more than a cultural heritage. It is very enjoyable.&uot;

The Loves also shared that their gift packages are available for $45 and under, making them an affordable way to bless and encourage others.

Dorothy Sneed, a vendor who contributed a quaint mixture of hand crocheted dollies with painted porcelain faces also had her items on display, while Rocquina Vaughan, an employee in the housing department of Chowan College, volunteered her talents to intricately designed hair braiding.

Also in attendance were Moctar Diallo, a man from the West African country of Sengal and first time vendor at the event, and Kevin Cunningham, a six-year veteran photographer of Vision Publishing, an independent business specializing in family portraits, weddings and videography.

Diallo, who came to the US four years ago, displayed items from African Vibes, a store he operates in Newport News. Both expressed their honor in being invited to participate in the event.

&uot;Africans have influenced a lot of aspects in America,&uot; said Riddick. &uot;Evidence of that influence can be seen in many areas. When Africans were captured to be used as slaves, whatever they had in their possession, seeds, materials, fabric, jewelry and methods of cooking and culture were all brought with them.

Africans brought the method of frying food to the south.&uot;

She continued, &uot;Blacks were serving in the military and acting as support personnel during times of war, even before the military was completely integrated. Somewhere down the road, the leadership realized if they didn’t teach blacks to fight, wars wouldn’t be won so the government started offering freedom to blacks that enlisted.&uot;

Riddick continued to share photos and stories, from the first Black Marine Corp Lieutenant General Frank E. Peterson to contemporaries like Alice Eley Jones whose contributed research about the life and history of slaves is recorded in books such as &uot;Addy,&uot; a six book series about the life of a young slave girl and the Black America Series – Hertford County North Carolina.

&uot;Although slavery is a big part of the nation’s history, people don’t like to talk about it because it is hard,&uot; said Riddick. &uot;I believe, however, that if we can get past the emotional aspects of it and digest the information, a lot of growth can occur. Nothing is perfect, but it can be better than it is.&uot;

Superintendent of Hertford County Public Schools, Dennis Deloatch, who joined the celebration later that afternoon stated, &uot;I am really excited about the opportunity to help support the African American festival and provide this kind of cultural awareness to the community.

&uot;Many of the conveniences and technologies we enjoy today were contributed by African Americans. Gas masks used by firemen in the early 1900s and by soldiers in World War I were invented by Garrett Augustus Morgan, the same man who invented the electric automatic traffic light back in 1923, which provided the foundation for modern day four-way traffic signals.&uot;

&uot;The history of slavery can’t be denied, but it’s not about changing the past, it’s about making the public aware so they can appreciate the changes, growth and progress,&uot; said Deloatch.

Riddick added, &uot;Some people think this is strictly African American, but it’s about community.&uot; Riddick, who believes in the continual process of education, is currently working towards fund raising events to assist libraries in the continued purchase books. &uot;As a former library coordinator, I realize the impact of limiting the libraries resources due to lack of funds, so I am trying to coordinate a program that will enable the libraries to obtain the books they need,&uot; said Riddick, who has been working in conjunction with the MLK Enrichment Program who is sponsoring the endeavor.

Riddick also stated that without the help of the Kerr Group in Ahoskie and Colonial Pharmacy in Murfreesboro, the event would not have been possible. &uot;I want to extend thanks to all of those who contributed to making this festival come alive. Without each one of them, this cultural affair would not have been possible.&uot;