BY ASHLEY D. THOMAS
Festivals, ceremonies and workshops celebrating and recollecting the accomplishments of Blacks in Volusia County are at the helm of this year’s Black History Month.
The national celebration was started by historian, author and journalist Carter G. Woodson as Negro History Week in February 1926, later transitioning to the entire month in 1969.
The Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH), an organization which mission is to “promote, research, preserve, interpret and disseminate information about Black life, history and culture to the global community’ sets a theme for Black History Month each year. This year’s theme is “A Century of Black Life, History and Culture.”
Events scheduled across Volusia County encompass that resolve. Here is a recap of some local Black History Month observances held thus far.
Service and the arts
Hope Fellowship Church is hosting events through March focused on Black history and present-day urban Daytona Beach. Last week, historic Black civic organizations from the National Pan-Hellenic Council (NPHC) as well as service-oriented fraternities and sororities met with community members at the church to discuss the history of their organizations.
Civil rights organizations such as the NAACP and Central Florida Urban League also were present. A music and arts Black history presentation was held on Feb. 11 along with a soul food “Taste of Hope’’ and video presentation on jazz interpretation of gospel music.
Bishop Derek Triplett, pastor of Hope Fellowship Church, recently hosted a leadership forum titled “Focus: 2015: Where are Our Leaders Taking Us?’’ At the Jan. 5 forum, he explained the church’s resolve to remain a channel bringing relevant information to local residents.
“We won’t have meeting after meeting but want to encourage urban Daytona on how to participate and how to hold themselves accountable,” he said. “We as a people can be great.”
The church has rescheduled two of those events to March 26 at 7 p.m.: “Black Economics in Daytona Beach,” a community forum; and “The Black Youth Speak,” a town hall meeting. The two were rescheduled so residents can attend the next meeting of the Daytona Beach City Commission.
Triplett and the Hope Fellowship congregation is asking for the public to show support for the “Ban the Box” initiative, which will be discussed Feb. 18 at 6 p.m. in the commission chambers at 301 S. Ridgewood Ave.
Since February 2002, the City of Port Orange has honored its African-American heritage, hosting a ceremony in partnership with Mt. Moriah Baptist Church and the Port Orange Historical Trust.
This year’s 12th Annual Freemanville Day Ceremony took place on Feb. 10 at Mt. Moriah, where Alberta McCloud, one of Freemanville’s few remaining residents shared memories of Freemanville.
In 1866, 500 former slaves settled near the shores of the Halifax River on public lands secured with the help of the U.S. Freedman Bureau.
They came to Port Orange to work for the Florida Land & Lumber Company, which Dr. John Milton Hawks, a Union Army surgeon and his partners formed. Hawks and his fellow Union Army officers had established Port Orange after the Civil War on April 26, 1867.
An additional 1,000 freed slaves made Port Orange their home six months later.
Falling on hard times, the settlement, the company and the integrated school disbanded in 1869. A majority of the settlers returned to their home states or headed for area citrus groves looking for work.
Over time, the few families and individuals who stayed made up the pioneering African-American neighborhood of Port Orange known as Freemanville.
New Smyrna festival
The annual Black Heritage Festival held in New Smyrna Beach brought out hundreds for music, storytelling, live music, arts, crafts and vendors.
The heart of the three-day festival – Feb. 6-8 – was at Pettis Park located at the corner of Mary Avenue and Duss Street.
Next to the park stands the Heritage House and the Heritage Museum. 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.
Jimmy Harrell, director of the Black Heritage Museum, says that the museum is open year round and welcomes residents and visitors to visit the site for a free tour.
“We have tours every day. The best way is to call and set up an appointment to tour the museum.’’
The museum does not have any paid employees, but Harrell says that the volunteers will be happy to help.
“We are open regular hours Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays, from 9-1, and Thursday, Fridays and Saturdays, 1-4. There is no standing fee, but we do accept donations,’’ he noted.
In reference to the festival, Harrell says he was pleased with the turnout. His wife, Mary, founded the festival 24 years ago. Mary died in August 2014.
“We really missed her, but we went ahead with it. We feel very good about it,” he added. “This was our 24th year. Next year, we really intend to outdo ourselves.” Tours can be scheduled by calling 386-478-1934 or 386-416-9699.