African-American Fest hailed as success

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, November 9, 2004

MURFREESBORO – On Saturday, the Hertford County Middle School gymnasium hosted the seventh annual African-American Festival, bringing local vendors and those from the neighboring state of Virginia together for a time of fellowship and fun.

The festival’s organizer Anne Eley Riddick, who has been a long-time collector of historical African-American items, had her usual spread of thought provoking and educational memorabilia on display, including old photographs of the first African-American Air Force, during the time of segregation.

&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 constructive and educational for the community.&uot;

One couple present at the event, which previously displayed items for the festival up until 2003, recently donated a large portion of their collection to the United States National Slave Museum, a new facility scheduled to open in 2007, expressed delight at attending the event.

&uot;This is the first year we have not participated in the festival with our display,&uot; said Therbia Parker Jr. with his wife Marva at his side, &uot;but we wanted to be here anyway. It is very educational.&uot;

Pointing to a framed series of post cards from Riddick’s collection, Parker noted, &uot;These were produced with the intention of further degrading blacks. They used to have one that depicted black people wearing black and white prison garb with a caption that read, ‘stripes, but no stars,’ so you can see the negative sentiment with which people regarded the African-American people during that time.&uot;

Mary Olney, otherwise known as &uot;Mama Girl,&uot; brought her hand-made collection of pop-art figurines. Made from newspaper and glue, Olney’s uniquely crafted pieces reflected the many faces of African-American peoples from a pastor at the pulpit to a mother holding her newborn baby.

&uot;When Ms. Riddick called me and asked me if I would be interested in participating in the event, she was so friendly, I couldn’t resist,&uot; she said laughing.

Olney, who has been expressing her artistic ability in this manner for seven years, has a studio in Virginia and has been interviewed up and down the east coast.

&uot;I have pieces all over from people who buy my work and bring it home with them,&uot; she said.

Olney has also had her work featured on several television programs, including PBS and the 700 Club, and will soon have some of her art on display in Chesapeake Maritime Museum in St. Michaels, Maryland, which is scheduled to open next year.

&uot;It’s exciting,&uot; she said.

Olney also uses her art as an icebreaker when speaking at schools and teaching workshops.

Another vendor, Dwight Jackson who relocated to Roanoke Rapids from San Francisco, California, displayed a myriad of original creations ranging from self-carved and crafted drums to hand-strung jewelry and scented oils.

&uot;I have been vending for the past eight years and I love it,&uot; said Jackson who has 200 stores nationwide as he stood beside some personally fashioned designs.

Running his finger over the lip of the drum, Jackson explained, &uot;The top of the drums are made from goat skins which I obtained from a local farmer. He agreed to give them to me when he’s finished slaughtering them. I obtain the skins twice a year and cure them.&uot;

Jackson said that the hardest part of making the drums, however, is preparing the logs. &uot;There is a certain window of time where the logs can be hollowed out and carved without cracking the wood,&uot; he said.

Although Jackson’s multi-faceted abilities could prove lucrative for sales on Ebay, he said he prefers the old-fashioned way of selling. &uot;I like talking to people face to face. There’s just something about being able to communicate and see people’s facial expressions and you don’t get that from on-line sales.&uot;

Aside from the vendors, local elementary school students performed upbeat dance routines and sang patriotic and inspirational songs, while a clown entertained the audience with creative balloon designs and a moonwalk.

&uot;This is a wonderful event,&uot; said attendee Cecil Watts of Virginia. &uot;This program if full of activities for kids and adults alike. It’s amazing what the artists contribute to this event.&uot;

Virginia Jacobs of Aulander was equally impressed. &uot;This is my first time at this event and I love it. I wish they would have had programs like this when I was a kid,&uot; she said.

&uot;I think it’s very interesting to see the product of the artist’s hands,&uot; she added. &uot;There’s so much talent here.&uot;

Other participants included Viola Veale, an artist from Bertie County, Leroy Edwards an artist who attended Tuskagee Institute and served in the U.S. Army and artist BJ Rice of Bertie County. The King Enrichment program provided the military exhibit and memorabilia, while Creative Kutz Concession and Bread of Heaven’s Creative Cooking provided food and drinks. American Legion Post 102 was present to recruit members and Smart Start shared an information display.

&uot;Each year more and more students and families attend this event and it just lets me know that it’s worth having it again and again,&uot; said Riddick.

She concluded, &uot;Education should be fun and I’m thankful for whatever way I can contribute to that.&uot;

Anyone wishing to contribute photos or other items for the African-American collection is encouraged to do so by sending them to King Enrichment at P.O. Box 397, Murfreesboro, N.C. 27855.