Greene County can boast of extraordinary and consistent efforts to celebrate and commemorate significant social, political, and cultural change events that had positive impacts on all of Greene County and beyond, but Greene County has never celebrated Juneteenth. Through the efforts of Spiver Gordon, the county celebrates Greene County Freedom Day, July 29, 1969, when the 80% + Black population won a sweep of county political offices. Gordon also leads annual celebrations and commemorations of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr’s, birthday, January 15, 1929 and assassination, April 4, 1968. But Greene County has never celebrated Juneteenth. We have celebrated Kwanzaa in Greene County over 30 years and the Black Belt Folk Roots Festival for 45 years. But Greene County has never celebrated Juneteenth. We have Boligee Day and Maydays in Forkland and Union. But Greene County has never celebrated Juneteenth. Juneteenth (a contraction of June and nineteenth) also known as Freedom Day, Jubilee Day, Liberation Day, and Emancipation Day – is a holiday celebrating the emancipation of Black people enslaved in the United States. June 19, 1865 is the date Texas was forced to free enslaved Black people in the state, nearly three years after the initial Emancipation Proclamation of President Abraham Lincoln. Juneteenth is now coming to Greene County. According to President and CEO, Luther Winn, Greenetrack is sponsoring the First Juneteenth Celebration in Greene County. The events, scheduled for Saturday, June 19, 2021 on the grounds of Greenetrack gaming, County Road 208, will feature a Car and Bike Show at 2:00 p.m, garnering $500 to the winner in each category; Ms. Juneteenth Pageant at 4:00 pm, awarding cash prizes starting at $2,500 along with a Smart TV; and a free concert featuring Steve Perry and Ms. Jodi, beginning at 7:00 p.m. On June 19, 1865, Federal Troops forced Texas to free enslaved Black people, who should have been set free at the official close of the Civil War. The Battle of Appomattox Court House, fought in Appomattox County, Virginia, on the morning of April 9, 1865, was one of the last battles of the American Civil War (1861–1865). It was the final engagement of Confederate General in Chief, Robert E. Lee, and his Army of Northern Virginia before it surrendered to the Union Army of the Potomac under the Commanding General of the United States, Ulysses S. Grant. Abraham Lincoln issued the preliminary Emancipation Proclamation on September 22, 1862. It stipulated that if the Southern states did not cease their rebellion by January 1, 1863, then Proclamation would go into effect. When the Confederacy did not yield, Lincoln issued the final Emancipation Proclamation on January 1st, 1863. The Emancipation Proclamation only applied to the states in rebellion. The Civil War and enslavement of Blacks continued until Lee’s surrender on April 9, 1865. Enforcement of the Proclamation generally relied on the advance of Union troops. Texas, as the most remote of the slave states, had a low presence of Union troops as the American Civil War ended; thus enforcement there had been slow and inconsistent before Granger’s announcement. Juneteenth is thus commemorated on the anniversary date of the June 19, 1865, announcement of General Order No. 3 by Union Army General Gordon Granger, proclaiming freedom from slavery in Texas. Originating in Galveston, Texas, Juneteenth is now celebrated annually on June 19 throughout the United States, with increasing official recognition.
The 45th annual BlackBelt Folk Roots Festival, for the first time, will be a Virtual Celebration of folk artists who are the bearers of the culture and traditions of the West Alabama Region. According to Dr. Carol P. Zippert, festival coordinator, the coronavirus pandemic is the primary reason for presenting a virtual festival this year. “We could not jeopardize anyone with an on site community celebration,” she said.
“The annual Black Belt Folk Roots Festival is home coming time in the region. Many families, class reunions and social clubs plan their annual activities to coincide with the festival’s schedule,” stated Dr. Zippert. “The usual on-site festival brings together folk artists who are considered bearers of the traditions and folkways of the West Alabama region. Having a Virtual Festival is a statement of recognition and celebration of the local artists who are the bearers of our culture, traditions and folkways,” she explained.
The Virtual Festival will feature down home blues music, old timey gospel, traditional foods, handmade crafts and special events for the young people. Ole Timey Blues artists will include Clarence Davis, Jock Webb, Willie T. Adams, Ernest Martin, Jontavious Willis, Lil Lee and the Midnight Blues Band, Nigel Speights, Russell Gulley, Terry “Harmonica” Bean, Roadhouse Blues Band, Willie Halbert and the Fingerprint Band, and others.
Music of the Ole Timey Gospel artists will include, The Melody Kings, The Mississippi Traveling Stars, The Golden Gates, Greene County Mass Choir, The American Travelers, Angels of Faith, Ms. Eddie Brown and many others.
The Virtual Festival will celebrate the craft artists, creators of hand made quilts; baskets from white oak, pine needles and corn shuck; jewelry, sundry of home decorative items, and more. The virtual site will also include information where viewers may contact those craft artists who have arrangements for online purchases.
The Virtual Web Site will also celebrate the artists who bring us the assortments of down-home foods usually available at the annual festival including soul food dinners, barbecue, fried fish, chicken and skins, Polish sausage, homemade ice cream, cakes and pies; snow cones, Italian ice, and more.
The Virtual Festival web site will be made available beginning August 22, 2020.
Virtual Kids Art Tent – A Zoom Experience
The Virtual Kids Tent will be presented via Zoom. Local artists Mynecia (Mya) Steele has designed various art activities and will the guide the young people in the hands-on creative projects. The youth participants who register in advance will be provided the art materials needed to participate in the Zoom classes. They may contact Maya at 205-393-8644 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org; or contact Carol Zippert at 205-372-0525, email: email@example.com.
“This is a festival where people truly celebrate themselves – their joys and struggles and especially ‘how we made it over,’” Zippert stated. We intend to claim, lift, and share our treasures of community celebration through this very special Virtual Festival – the 45th Celebration of the Black Belt Folk Roots Festival.
The Black Belt Folk Roots Festival is supported in part by the Alabama Department of Tourism, the Black Belt Community Foundation, Alabama Power Foundation; Greenetrack, Inc. and other local contributors.
The festival is produced by the Society of Folk Arts & Culture.
For more information contact Carol P. Zippert at 205-372-0525;
The organizers of the annual Black Belt Folk Roots Festival, which is in its 44th year of community celebration, had a moment of concern when they were informed that an aged tree on the old courthouse square posed a potential danger to anyone on the grounds. The downtown square has been the site for the festival for most of those 44 years. The Eutaw Area Chamber of Commerce, which supervises use of the old courthouse square, posted yellow caution tape barring the two largest trees on the grounds from close access. This action raised concern among many in the community. The constant questions became: What about our festival? Will we still have our festival in August on the old courthouse square with the blues and gospel stage, assorted handcrafts, and a variety of foods?
The Black Belt Folk Roots Festival is scheduled for Saturday, August 24 and Sunday August 25, 2019 and the festival will go on.
Chamber President, Beverly Gordon, was very diligent in seeking solutions to the tree dilemma. The huge oak tree situated behind the former office of the county circuit clerk on the square was visibly rotted and a hazard that needed to be removed. Ms. Gordon consulted with city and county officials including the Greene County Cooperative Extension Office for input and assistance. Subsequently, an arrangement was worked out with Mrs. Lovie Burrell Parks, County Extension Coordinator to secure resources through an AlPro Health Obesity Grant, funded through Auburn University.
According to Mrs. Parks, Greene is one of 13 counties, with adult obesity rates greater than 40%, funded through local community coalitions in support of initiatives to reduce obesity by providing increase access to healthy foods and places for physical activity. She explained that the Eutaw Community Coalition readily applied some of its ALPro Health grant funds to defray the cost to remove the rotted tree, since the sidewalk around the old courthouse square is utilized for healthy walks by many in the community. The benches on the square, also provided by the project, serve the needs of individuals walking for better health.
“ The cutting of the tree will allow community citizens to walk around the square for more physical activity in greater safety,” Parks said. She extended a special thank you to the Eutaw Community Coalition for allowing this project to take place in the Eutaw city square.
The Greene County Commission, at its regular meeting held Monday, August 14, 2017, acted on various items carried over and placed on the agenda from the work session discussions of the previous week. The commission approved paying off an existing loan at Citizen Trust Bank on a garbage truck and beginning the process to acquire a loan to purchase a new garbage truck as well a new pick-up truck.
In addition to its current fee schedule for use of the Eutaw Activity Center, the commission approved imposing a security deposit of $150 which will be refunded to renter providing no damage has occurred during use.
As part of her budget amendments report, CFO Paula Bird informed the commission of an adjustment relative to the state mandated raise for County Voter Registrars.
In 2016 the Alabama Legislature raised the pay rate for registrars from $60 per day to $80 per day with maximum number of days for each registrar not to exceed 120 per year.
Following conclusion of required advertisement, the commission approved hiring a person in the solid waste division. Engineer Willie Branch oversees that process.
The commission approved a credit card policy which was adopted from basic policy drafts available through the Alabama Association of County Commissions.
Other actions approved by the commission included the following.
* Hiring a temporary driver for the Eutaw Nutrition Site.
* Providing access to courthouse restrooms during the annual Black Belt Folk Roots Festival.
* Purchasing items for the shop ($69,500) and equipment repairs ($5,000) from General Fund bingo funds and amending budget to reflect approved expenditures.
* Material agreement with Archie Bird, LLC.
* Developing a pit on County Road 117, providing basic standards are met.
* CD investment in amount of $110,416.41 with Robertson Banking Co., highest bidder.
* Budget amendment for expenditure for RSA retired members one time lump sum payment, funded from 2007 Bond Warrant.
* Renewed contracts with Blue Cross Blue Shield of Alabama; S&W – Revenue/Appraisal; TriState-Appraisal; Delta Software-JOP; Digital Information Systems – IT Management for courthouse, jail and highway department.
The commission tabled an item dealing with requests for bridge abandonment.
The annual Black Belt Folk Roots Festival features Ole Timey Blues artists on Saturday and Ole Timey Gospel artists on Sunday. There is no contradiction in the appreciation of both. As the elders tell it: The wailing blues tell the stories of our struggles, hardships, heartaches, lost loves and lost lives. The prayerful gospel music lifts the stories of our faith, determination, perseverance and How We Made it Over. Many of the founding festival musicians are no longer with us, including Willie King, Bo McGee, Jesse Daniels, George Conner, members of the Echo Gospel Singers, members of the Tishabee Male Chorus, members of the New Gospel Travelers. Shown above are festival founders Clarence Davis, Lemon Harper, Burlie and Liz Daniels, who, along with many others, will be with us at this year’s festival, Saturday August 26 and Sunday August 27 on the Old Courthouse Square in Eutaw, AL.
By Mynecia D. Steele
The Black Belt Folk Roots Festival is held on every fourth Saturday and Sunday in August.
These days are engraved in the memories of all Greene County residents, one in particular being Mrs. Mary Hicks.
Of the 41 years that the festival has been held, Hicks has been working as a vendor for 30 of those years. She loves working the event and socializing with her community. Hicks enjoys showing off her work and sharing it with people who appreciate it, as she does. In the past, Hicks has also made baskets for her church, Saint John in Clinton, lead by Rev. Michael Lavender.
Mary Hicks has tried her hand in a multitude of crafts over the years. Some of her handcrafts include: chairs made from clothing pins and quilts. She has since put those things aside and now focuses on weaving hats and baskets. These crafts are mainly created from pine needles.
Thirty years ago, she learned to make hats and baskets from Mabel Means, now deceased.
Hicks worked as a vendor for the first time, alongside Means. Since Means’ passing, Hicks has begun selling on her own.
According to Mrs. Hicks, creating crafts for the festival requires much preparation. Some of the smaller things, like hats, only take about two days to make. Other projects, like scarves and quilts may require as long as a week to complete.
Over the years the festival has been a way for the community to come together, said Hicks.
She is thankful that the festival has remained the same event that she has always loved. While she has not sold anything in a few years, she plans to return this year, for the 41st Black Belt Folk Roots Festival.
By: Mynecia Destinee Steele
Ms. Sarah Duncan adds her sweet touch to the annual Black Belt Folk Roots Festival every year. On those warm August days, kids and adults alike look forward to something cool and sweet on Saturday and a sundae on Sunday. Duncan churns out cup after cup of her home made ice cream.
“I like to make people happy. It feels good to put a smile on their faces,” said Duncan. She says making ice cream is her way to spread happiness. Her presence is expected and appreciated by many each year. People travel from out of town to see her and to have a taste of her ice cream. Duncan smiled as she remembered a woman traveling from Louisiana for a cup of her homemade deliciousness. The woman told Duncan that she had not planned on coming to the festival. It wasn’t until someone raised the question: “Well, what are we going to do about Ms. Duncan’s ice cream?” that she decided she had to come.
Duncan says that she has always enjoyed attending the festival. She enjoys the blues and gospel music. She also uses the festival as an opportunity to fellowship with friends and a chance to meet new people. Duncan says she has made many friends while participating in the festival for over 30 years.
The festival is all about remembering your roots says Duncan. It is a way to see how to make things the old-fashion way. That is why it’s important for youth to attend the festival. It is a learning experience for them, she stated.
She says children and teens often gather around her table to see how she makes her ice cream. The children make her laugh, asking questions like, “Why are you putting all that salt in the ice cream?” She goes on to explain that she actually pours the salt around the ice cream, not in it.
Just as she was able to lend that small bit of knowledge, there are many other vendors and older people in attendance who have something to pass on to the next generation.
Duncan learned to make ice cream about 35 years ago, from Mrs. Margaret Charles Smith. Smith made ice cream at a restaurant that Duncan often visited. She gave Duncan her recipe, and instructions on how to make the ice cream. But, through practice, Duncan was able to teach herself the rest. Over the years, Duncan has tweaked that original recipe, but still credits Smith for helping her get started.
In the early years, Duncan would make about 5 gallons of ice cream total. Since then, demand has grown. She now sells about 20-25 gallons. Even after preparing that much ice cream, she struggles to make it last both days. She also had to bring in some help. Her children have started helping out and selling the ice cream for her.
People frequently ask Duncan about selling her ice cream at other locations and for other events. She decided to keep it in Greene County. She only makes her homemade ice cream for the Black Belt Folk Roots Festival and occasional family gatherings.
Ms. Duncan stated, with some sadness, that she doesn’t know how long she will be able to continue preparing her ice cream for the festival.
By: Mynecia Destinee Steele
Mr. Clarence Davis has been around since the first Black Belt Folk Roots Festival, and he remembers it well.
Clarence attended the first Black Belt Folk Roots Festival 41 years ago and he has not missed one yet.
Davis says that he remembers when Jane Sapp, music and cultural instructor for the event, and other staff of the Miles College-Eutaw Program, started the festival. “I remember them going around trying to get people and musicians together,” said Davis.
Davis has not only attended the festival regularly, but he also participates in musical performances. Davis was inducted in the Blues Hall of Fame in 2014. The City of Eutaw is privileged to have had Davis’ music grace its courtyard square every August.
He plays what he calls Delta Blues. This style of music came from the Mississippi area during the ‘20s and ‘30s.Growing up, Davis fell in love with this style of music, and eventually taught himself to play blues on the bass.
“I first started playing around with a guitar at seven”, said Davis. “But, I really started getting into it when I was 12.”
Learning to play took lots of practice, but Davis was dedicated. He would listen to songs and mimic the sounds of other musicians until he sounded exactly like them.
According to Davis most musicians during that time tried to imitate that delta sound. The music expressed the hardships that many people, especially farmers, were experiencing during that time.
Davis went on to reminisce about some of the other original festival performers and musicians. He clearly remembers that raw down-home sound. He particularly loved the way the performers played the hambone.
There was something special about those homemade instruments said Davis. These instruments were reflective of our roots. And that is what the Black Belt Folk Roots Festival is all about.
He misses the old time sounds of the festival, but he also appreciates the way that younger generations have taken on the tradition of playing at the festival, with their new school blues and hip-hop.
Mr. Davis says that one thing he would love to see, before his last festival, is for it to continue to grow. He suggested that the event be moved to the local park. This space would provide a larger venue, and therefore more vendors could participate and more people could attend.
Davis emphasized how important this event is to the Black Belt community. “For a lot of the older people, this is probably the only time they really get to come out of the house,” said Davis. He said that this event is one time out of the year that the entire community is able to get together and have a great time.
L to R: Rev. Christopher Spencer, Vassie Welbeck-Browne, Johnnie M. Knott, Mary Beck, Darlene Robinson, Felicia Lucky.
Woman-To-Woman , Inc. recieved a $10,000 grant to support the project, “Pathway to Nurturing, Strengthening and Changing.” Greene County youth will use drama, dance and poetry to increase academic achievement, improve self-esteem, and develop communication skills. Through this project, students will use several art disciplines to improve academics and creativity by working with community partners and professional artists.
L to R: Felicia Lucky, Rev. Christopher Spencer Andrea Perry, Darlene Robinson and Braxton Carlilse. Greene County Alumnae Chapter Delta Sigma Theta: $2,000 to support the DST Café project which will expose the community to a combination of arts by presenting creative expressions in performing, visual and literary arts.
L to R: Rev. Christopher Spencer, Felicia Lucky, Debra Eatman and Darlene Robinson. Society of Folk Arts and Culture: $3,000 to support the 41st Black Belt Folk Roots Festival which celebrates the culture, traditions and folkways of the West Alabama Region.
in grant awards
The Black Belt Community Foundation, located in Selma, Al, awarded $60,000 in grants to fund programs throughout 12 counties located in the Black Belt Region to bolster efforts in the art programs. The awards were presented in a ceremony at the Hank Sanders Technology Center, Wallace Community College, Selma, AL, on Saturday, June 18, 2016, to recipients who gathered for a day of celebration and fellowship. Greene County received $5,000 in arts grant support for art related programs and a $10,000 Arts Education Grant. The total of grant awards for Greene County was $15,000. “The Black Belt Community Foundation has awarded nearly $3.2 million in grants to our 12 counties since 2005,” said Felecia Lucky, President of the BBCF. It is gratifying to see the organizations and community leaders who work hard every day to transform our region through the arts gather together and attend the ceremony, which is a vibrant celebration of our mission.”
This past April, community led organizations located in Bullock, Choctaw, Dallas, Greene, Hale, Lowndes, Macon, Marengo, Perry, Pickens, Sumter, and Wilcox counties were welcomed to apply for grants to support the arts. The BBCF awarded $60,000 in grants to arts initiative project.
By Mynecia Steele
Ms. Bessie Underwood of Mantua often participates in the annual Black Belt Folk Roots Festival. Although, she does not visit yearly, the community recognizes her for the skilled handcrafts she brings to the festival.
Underwood says that she visits the festival as often as possible. She works on her projects and crafts year round. This allows her to have a variety of items available when the festival comes around. Her handcrafts include, but are not limited to, crocheted scarves, afghans, throws and wreaths. Underwood also makes specialty crafts, at request, such as Alabama and Auburn football themed blankets.
Underwood says that she often sells her pieces for much less than they are worth. Considering the money, time and hard work that Underwood invests in her projects, not to mention that quality of the products, she practically gives away her crafts just to see the joy they bring to others.
She says that she comes up with designs for her projects in her mind. She only learned to read crochet patterns about five years ago, but she learned to crochet long before then. Her first grade teacher, Mrs. Billups, taught her to crochet. Over the years crocheting has become second nature to her. “Sometimes I wake up at night because the Lord has put a design on my heart, and I just have to get up and make it,” said Underwood.
Underwood gained an interest in selling her crafts at the festival after visiting with her neighbor, Mrs. Odessa Rice, who also participates in the festival. While visiting, Underwood noticed the many baskets and quilts that Rice had been making. After learning that Rice was preparing these projects for sale at the festival, Underwood thought that would be a great way for her to share her work, as well.
Aside from selling her crafts, Underwood attends the festival to fellowship with the community, enjoy the different foods and she loves listening to the blues performances.
Come out and support Ms. Bessie Underwood, and the many other vendors, at this year’s Black Belt Folk Roots Festival.
This event is free and open to the public, as always. It will be held Saturday, August 27, 11:00 a.m. – 6:00 p.m., and the following Sunday, August 28, 2:00 p.m. – 7:00 p.m. For more information contact: Carol Zippert at 205-372-0525; email: firstname.lastname@example.org.