Annual festival draws the talents of young artists building on the gifts of elders

Local youth choirs have become a mainstay at the annual Black Belt Folk Roots Festival.

The Black Belt Folk Roots Festival, originating in 1975 through the Miles College Eutaw Program, was designed to lift the history, culture, and traditions of the county and region. The focus was, and has been for a long time, on the elders – the bearers of the culture. They lived through times when quilts were made to protect against the cold winter nights and baskets were weaved for practical use such as picking cotton, gathering vegetables, holding laundry and more. The ole timey blues strummed on makeshift guitars, accompanied by jug blowing, hambone slapping and washboard rubbing, recounted the struggles, hardships, loss and pain a people long endured. They sang their stories on back porches through long summer evenings and in juke-joints on Saturday nights. And those same folk, in a different venue, shifted to lift their gospel singing voices in praise and thanksgiving as they recounted “How We Made It Over.” So that’s why the festival was and is, however, the elders don’t live forever. Each year some one or two pass on. But the stories must live on; and there are new stories birthing and growing all the time. The youth have their chapters to our stories and their own stories as well.

On this 43rd celebration of the annual Black Belt Folk Roots Festival we can lift several young artists who are here to share their gifts. Nigel Speights of Boligee, AL, a rising 11th grade student, is on his way to becoming an accomplished blues musician. He strums his guitar in the spirit of the elder bluesmen who continue to teach and lead him. Jontavious Willis, a young man from Greenville, GA, sought out our festival, appealing to me with the words: “I have the spirit of the blues in my heart and soul. Just let me play at the festival – I don’t ask for money – just let me play.” Jontavious has been coming and playing ever since. The festival also showcases youth choirs who lift that ole timey gospel of the elders. We also feature the children of gospel crooners who have passed on. James and John Sykes, of the Mississippi Traveling Stars, are no longer with us on this Earth, but their sons have taken up the baton of Ole Timey Gospel praise and celebration. Fatima Robinson and Mynecia Steele, Greene County born and bred, are gifted artists creating with their hands what can only be inspired through the mutual workings of the mind, heart and soul. To know and appreciate their creations, come to the festival and start your collection. Even the foodways of the festival are leaning toward our youth. The soul food dinner tradition of Geraldine Sands, continues through her daughter, Rita Sands Mahoney. Like mother, like daughter and daughter gets better. It was truly a blessing when Delfreda Coleman came to the festival for the first time last year with her home made ice cream. Ms. Sarah Duncan had graced us with her heavenly delight of churned-on-the-spot homemade ice cream for many, many years, until, for health reasons, she couldn’t any longer. So we missed a year – no homemade ice-cream at the festival – until Delfreda came on the scene with her cream. The 43rd Black Belt Folk Roots Festival is scheduled for Saturday August 25 and Sunday August 26, on the old courthouse square in Eutaw, (Greene County) AL. There is no admission. There is no charge to celebrate. Come join us and enjoy. For more information contact: Carol P. Zippert at 205-372-0525.

County Commission approves submitting proposal to purchase Carver School facility

At the regular monthly meeting of the Greene County Commission, held Monday, December 11, 2017, the body voted 3-2 to authorize the chairman to negotiate details of an offer to purchase the former Carver School property from the Greene County Board of Education.
The first dissenting voice came from Commissioner Corey Cockrell who questioned why would the commission want to consider purchasing Carver School now. According to Cockrell, the commission had had previous discussions on the property but had taken no action toward purchase.
Commissioner Allen Turner stated that the county had a long list of projects and needs that should be addressed instead of purchasing a building that brings with it additional obligations. Both Cockrell and Turner stated that the City of Eutaw has submitted a request with a plan to purchase Carver and it seems that the county is trying to undercut the city.
Commissioner Lester Brown spoke in support of the county’s securing Carver School. He stated that there are numerous projects that the county could house in that facility including Parks & Recreation, Senior Citizens Programs, Summer Feeding, Veterans Programs and others.
Commissioner Michael Williams, who also supported the county’s move to acquire Carver, noted that the Carver facility could allow the county to sponsor various training programs and workshops that would benefit employees and the community.
Rev. Michael Barton, pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church in Forkland, was present and seemed to be the spokesperson for many in the audience who opposed the County Commission’s efforts to acquire Carver Middle School. Many of those in the audience were among his parishioners.
It should also be noted that Mayor Raymond Steele of Eutaw, proposed Rev. Barton to be employed by the City as Recreational Coordinator, if the City’s proposal for the school facilities is accepted by the Board of Education. Steele proposed employing Rev. Barton at the November 14 City Council meeting but withdrew the proposal before a vote since Eutaw Council members were reluctant to vote on staffing before the facilities had been secured.

Many in the audience echoed the sentiments of Commissioners Cockrell and Turner which were in favor of Eutaw purchasing Carver School, however Carl Davis suggested that the county and city come together and devise a plan for joint purchase.
It should be noted that a purchase by the city is for the city; whereas the county would be obligated to serve all of Greene County.
The commission voted to allow the Coroner to establish an office in the space above the Law Library, where the Society of Folk Arts & Culture currently stores it equipment and artifacts related to the production of the annual Black Belt Folk Roots Festival. The county is obligated to provide suitable work space for the Coroner.
In a previous conversation, Commission Chairperson Tennyson Smith stated he would work with the Society in securing suitable space for the festival equipment.
In other business the commission acted on the following:
* Approved RDS to collect lodging taxes and authorize chairman to sign necessary documents.
* Approved vacating un-named road off CR 203 with attorney filing necessary papers with Judge of Probate.
* Approved to consider agreement with JM Woods for sale of three dump trucks for June action.
* Tabled filling two vacant equipment operator positions.
* Approved joining lawsuit in regards to the Opioid epidemic and authorize Chairman to sign all necessary documents.

Approved travel for Probate Judge, Chief Clerk – Jan 16-19 in Montgomery.
Approved financial report and payment of claims as presented by CFO Paula Bird.
The CFO’s financial report included the following:Total Fund Balance as of Nov. 17, 2017, was $2,191,254.71. Total funds in banks – $4,061,096.44; total investments – $800,180.54; total ion Bank of New York – $358,521.42. Accounts payable totaled $500,574.95; Payroll Transfers totaled $242,520.89; Other Transfers totaled $71,398.97; Fiduciary $144,908; Total – $959,402.81.

Hats off to Mrs. Mary Hicks

By Mynecia D. Steele

 

Hicks

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.