BY ANDREAS BUTLER
No city or town locally celebrates Black History Month like New Smyrna Beach.
The annual New Smyrna Beach Black Heritage Festival took place last weekend with plenty of activities, live music, presentations, food, fun and entertainment.
The heart of the three-day festival was at Pettis Park located at the corner of Mary Avenue and Duss Street.
From mission to museum
Next to the park stands the Heritage House and the Heritage Museum located on Duss Street. Both buildings contain numerous relics and artifacts depicting the town’s Black history. They both were open for free tours and were featured during the festival.
The Heritage Museum is an old Catholic mission that was built in 1899 as the Sacred Heart/St. Rita building. It was originally for Whites and located on Faulkner Street. But in 1956, it was moved to Duss Street and used as a Black mission.
The Heritage house is an actual house lived in by Blacks; the house is estimated to have been built around 1920.
“Our festival has been going for 22 years. We have the museum and heritage house. We have plenty to do here for everybody. We wanted to make it a fun-filled and family-oriented event,” said Jimmy Harold, director of the New Smyrna Beach Black Heritage Festival and Museum.
“We really don’t have a theme. We wanted to provide entertainment and provide a good time for people as well as educate them on Black history, including our own local Black history.’’
‘All about our heritage’
The New Smyrna festival is unique because it highlights the small town’s own rich Black heritage.
“It’s all about our heritage. We have to remember our heritage. I grew up in the ’60s and I’ve seen both segregation and integration. I saw Dr. King fight his battles. I grew up during segregation. You see a mixed crowd here so we have integrated,” commented New Smyrna resident Arthur Williams.
Williams also was there with the Sons of Allen Boy Scouts of America, which sold cookies and other snacks during the event.
“The experience is amazing and the crowd is more diverse. I think it is coming along well, especially with the participation of the community,” stated local artist and art teacher Shyriaka Morris.
Morris also is on the New Smyrna Beach Black Heritage Festival Committee and serves as its youth coordinator. She also painted faces and a community mural during the festival.
Not trying to be too big
Harold called the New Smyrna Black Heritage Festival a truly local event.
“We are hometown and emphasize local history. This event truly focuses on local history and Florida history. We are truly local. We don’t want to be international,” Harold noted.
Added Williams, “This is a great thing and I hope that it grows. It is small, but we want everyone locally to come out and enjoy this event.’’
Teaching the youth
Festival organizers also worked hard to reach out to the younger generation.
“I’ve been here for seven years. I think it’s now more geared towards the youth, which is needed. They need to learn our history and past on traditions of keeping it going. It is important to have it geared towards youth. I think our culture has a lost history, which isn’t made important. I think it’s my job to past it on to the youngsters,” commented Morris.
Williams noted, “Festivals like this let our youth know what happened in the past and what our future brings us. They need to know history to know where we came from.’’
Harold responded, “We have a lot more youngster here than adults. We want to teach them and that is why we provided so many activities for them.’’
Some of the children stated how they had a good time and were educated on Black history during the festival.
Seven-year old Miracle Williams of New Smyrna Beach reflected about the good time he had and how he was educated during the festival.
“The festival was fun. I got my face painted. There was plenty of food and games. I also went to the museum and learned about Black history and how people once lived,” he said. “I think that Black history is important and everyone should learn about it.”