Annual Black Belt Folk Roots Festival, time for reunions, good food and music

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Lemon Harper of Sumter County shows off his dance routine at Annual Festival.  and John Kennedy Byrd prepares his famous Barbecue ribs at annual festival

Where else can you smile and sway to ole timey blues, enjoy the delicacies of right-off-the grill barbecue and polish sausages, feast on freshly cooked country dinners with assorted pies and cakes and then top it all off with hand churned homemade ice cream.
All this and more is happening at the annual Black Belt Folk Roots Festival on Saturday, August 25 and Sunday August 26 on the Old Courthouse Square in Eutaw, AL.
The festival features down home blues music, old timey gospel, traditional foods, handmade crafts. Saturday’s events are scheduled from 11:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. with Ole Timey Blues and dancing featuring musicians Clarence Davis, The Liberators, Jock Webb, Davey Williams, Russell Gulley, Terry “Harmonica” Bean, and others.
The handmade crafts available at the festival are traditional quilts and other needle works; baskets from white oak, pine needles and corn shucks. The assortments of down-home foods include soul food dinners, barbecue, fried fish, chicken and skins, homemade ice cream, cakes and pies; snow cones, Italian ice, and more.
Ole Timey Gospel is reserved for Sunday’s festival beginning at 2:00 p.m. and featuring the
The Echo Juniors, The Melody Kings, The Mississippi Traveling Stars, The Golden Gates, New Generation Men of Promise, Greene County Mass Choir, Glory Gospel Group, Angels of Faith, The American Gospel Singers and many others.

“The 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. Carol P. Zippert, festival coordinator. “The festival brings together musicians, craftspersons, storytellers, food specialists, community workers – all who are considered bearers of the traditions and folkways of the West Alabama region,” she explained. “This is a festival where people truly celebrate themselves – their joys and struggles and especially ‘How we made it over,’” Zippert states.
According to Dr. Zippert, the two day festival is open to the public free of charge. The hours are Saturday, August 25, 11:00 a.m. – 6:00 p.m. and Sunday August 26, 2:00 p.m.- 7:00 p.m.
The Black Belt Folk Roots Festival is supported in part by the Black Belt Community Foundation, Alabama Power Foundation, Alabama Department of Tourism and other local contributors.
The festival is produced by the Society of Folk Arts & Culture.
There is no admission fee for the Festival events.
For more information contact Carol P. Zippert at 205-372-0525;
Email: carolxzippert@aol.com

University of West Alabama receives approval for a charter school; Will this help or hurt public education in Sumter County?

A News Analysis
By: John Zippert,Co-Publisher

The Alabama Public Charter School Commission on June 27, 2017 approved the application of the University of West Alabama for a charter school on campus.
Dr. Ken Tucker, President of UWA has been vigorously promoting the idea of a charter school since the end of last year. Community meetings were held in March 2017 in Livingston, York, Emelle and Epes to solicit public comments and input on the proposed charter school.
The mission, as stated on the website of the University’s Charter School, is to be a rural, diverse K-12 school that cultivates independent thought, promotes the building of character and civic responsibility. The school is committed to preparing all students for personal and professional success through the discovery of individual learning pathways in a rigorous and integrated Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics (STEAM) focused, project-based and place-based curriculum.
The school ties into other components of the University’s educational program including its Black Belt Teacher Corps, Center for Excellence in Teaching, Rural Schools Collaborative and others.
The school is proposed to open a pre-K through 5th grade in 2018-2019, and add subsequent grades in the following years. Initially the school will be located on the UWA campus but other alternative sites are also being explored.
The charter school will have its own private non-profit board of directors to control the school. The University’s board will not govern the school, according to the website, but the initial work and funding has been sponsored and coordinated with UWA.
The website states, “ A charter school provides an alternative to students and parents. According to the Alabama Kid’s Count Data Book, there are more than 2,500 K-12 students in Sumter County. Of this number, just over 1,700 are associated with a school located in Sumter County. This reveals a deficit of more than 800 students who are either enrolled in a school system outside Sumter County or not enrolled at all. The establishment of a charter school in Sumter County gives those students another educational option.”
Where are these 800 students? Some of the younger ones are in Headstart or Early Headstart; some attend schools in neighboring counties, e.g., Demopolis, Pickens County, Tuscaloosa; and some attend Sumter Academy, which was established in the 1960’s to accommodate white children who did not want to attend integrated schools. Recently, Sumter Academy announced it was closing its doors due to lack of enrollment.

President Ken Tucker says that the proposed charter school will help to deal with depopulation, loss of business and industry, skilled workforce shortages, poverty and lack of child well being. Marcus Campbell, Chair of the Sumter County Commission says he was on an exploratory committee for the charter school and was told that it would help to attract new industry and people to the community.
The charter school will be funded based on the state per-pupil allocation. If the charter school draws from children attending the public schools, then it will hurt and reduce the budget for the existing public schools in the county. The charter school seems to sidestep this concern by focusing on the students, mostly white, from Sumter County, who seemingly chose not to attend public schools in the county.
Ms. Daisybelle Quinney, Sumter County School Board member says, “I am opposed to this charter school, it further divides the community and takes resources from public education. If UWA was so concerned and interested in the welfare and future of Sumter County students why didn’t they come to meet with our Board and Superintendent and help to bring all the students together in one great school system.”
Ms. Julene Delaine, another SC school Board member said,
“I am 100% for public schools. I think it is time for people in Sumter County, Black and white, to come together to build up and make things better, not worse and tear things apart.”
Delaine also pointed out that members of the last graduating class at Sumter Central had entered college at a sophomore level because of taking Advanced Placement classes in the public school and that students earned $6.5 million in college scholarships.
An official release, faxed to the Democrat from the Sumter County Board of Education, stated the following: “The Sumter County Board of Education will continue to improve all aspects of our academic and extra curricular programs. At this time we do not have any comments on the UWA charter school.”
Ms. Drucilla Jackson, Vice-Chair of the Sumter County Commission, said, “ I graduated from UWA but what they are doing to set up a new school to take resources from the public schools is shameful and unacceptable. They are going to take a few of our brightest and best students out of the public schools but most of the students will be white students fleeing school integration. The saddest part of this is that white folks need to face up to living and working in a society with Black people if we are going to have real change in the Black Belt.”
There are many questions that the people of Sumter and surrounding counties need to ask about this charter school. How many students and resources will they take from Sumter County Public Schools and Headstart? How diverse will their student body really be and how will they insure this? What kind of teachers will they have at the school?; will they be properly credentialized? Why does the charter school need a separate board that has only two African-American members in a county with a 70% Black majority?
Dr. Carol P. Zippert, a Greene County School Board member said, “ It is undeniable that this charter school will take resources from the public schools but the real issue is that UWA and its white supporters do not accept or want to be governed and controlled by a Board of Education and Superintendent elected by a Black majority population in Sumter County. How will UWA help education in the Alabama Black Belt if they do not trust or believe in Black leadership?”

 

Countywide meeting held to support and defend Greene Co. Constitutional Amendment 743 for ‘electronic bingo’

groupMore than 250 people attended Tuesday’s countywide meeting at the National Guard Armory to discuss the recent decision of the Alabama Supreme Court deeming ‘electronic bingo’ in Greene County to be illegal. This decision made on an appeal by the State of Alabama on the 2010 raid which confiscated 825 electronic bingo machines from Greenetrack.The Alabama Supreme Court ruled that it has defined bingo as a game of chance played on paper cards and that the electronic bingo machines used at Greenetrack and other gaming facilities in Greene County are “illegal slot machines”.
This decision comes despite the 2003 vote by Greene County residents to enact Constitutional Amendment 743 authorizing electronic bingo. Greene County voters approved this amendment by an overwhelming vote.
Luther “Nat” Winn, CEO of Greenetrack presided over the meeting and introduced the county and legislative officials who spoke.
Winn said, “This decision by the Supreme Court is an illegal decision, they went against a Constitutional Amendment that we that we worked hard and legally secured for Greene County. The voters of Greene County have lost our basic right to vote and make decisions to help ourselves and build our county. The Supreme Court is taking 300 jobs from Greene County and millions of dollars of support for county government, municipal government and vital services. They have given us nothing in return. We are not going to accept this decision, we are going to fight it.”
Mayor Raymond Steele of Eutaw said,” This is going to be devastating for Eutaw and Greene County. There is no growth or new business in our area besides gaming. If the Supreme Court and the State take away bingo what will we have left. Do not touch Greenetrack until you bring us some jobs and revenues to replace it.”
Elmore Patterson, CEO of the Greene County Health System, warned that the hospital and nursing home would be forced to close without the jobs and revenues from bingo.
Hodges Smith speaking on behalf of the Greene County Firefighters Association said, “ We got tired of selling hamburgers and fish sandwiches to support our voluntary fire departments in Greene County. We supported Amendment 743 and went to the Alabama Legislature to get it passed because of the revenues that have been generated to support 14 fire departments across the county.”
Dr. Carol P. Zippert, District 1 School Board members said, “I cannot speak for the Board, but I can speak for the children of Greene County. We have not received enough funds from bingo but what we have received has helped the children of the county. This is a voting rights issue; the Alabama Supreme Court is taking our votes away. I had hoped that we had made some progress since the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960’s but it seems that our children will have to fight the same fights all over again to protect our rights.”
Lester Brown, Greene County Commissioner said, “ We need to support Amendment 743. It provides that matching funds for roads and bridges in our county. It provides jobs for our people. The Supreme Court wants us to cross a bridge with out the money to build it – that won’t happen!”
State Representatives Ralph Howard and Artis McCampbell who represent Greene County in the Alabama Legislature also spoke. “We have Constitutional Amendment 743, what else do we need to have? We need to stand up for the rule of law… it is worth fighting for,” said Howard.
Kennard Randolph, Blackbelt Outreach Coordinator for Congresswoman Terry Sewell said the Congresswoman was supportive of gaming in Greene County and would help in any way she could.
State Senator Bobby Singleton addressed the group and said he had been involved in the original debates over bingo in Greene County and helped insert the language for ‘electronic bingo’ in the legislation for the Constitutional Amendment referendum in 2003.
“This whole fight against bingo is a conspiracy between AG Luther Strange, the Republican Supreme Court and the Republican Party. There is ex parte communications between Luther Strange and the Supreme Court. The Republican Party wants to cut out all possible sources of campaign funds for the Democrats. They went after the teachers (AEA), unions, state employees, trial lawyers and gaming, “ said Singleton.
Singleton said he serves on the Governor’s Task Force on Gaming and he learned, “That this issue of electronic bingo in Greene County stands between the state giving the Native Americans exclusive rights to gaming in the state; a state lottery and other issues. I am fighting for the people of Greene County, not just Greenetrack. We need jobs at livable wages and revenues from gaming to support needed government and community services.”
Near the end of the meeting, Probate Judge, Judy Spree asked Winn what was his plan of action. Winn said, “ We are going to fight to protect bingo but if you know people in high places then contact them and ask them to help Greene County.
Others suggested using social media like Facebook to spread the word of the impacts of the Supreme Court’s decision on Greene County people. A more detailed strategy of resistance and fighting back was left to future meetings.
Noticeable absent from this countywide meeting was Sheriff Benison, who is the county official who supervises bingo under Amendment 743, makes the rules and administers the funds coming from bingo. Also missing were representatives of the owner-operators of the other bingo parlors in Greene County – Green Charities, Rivers Edge and Frontier.