Thousands flocked to the 15th annual African American Cultural Celebration on Saturday to kick off Black History Month with music, stories and more – bringing thousands of years of history together at the Museum of History downtown.
People from across the state came to the daylong celebration to enjoy performances by musicians and dancers and to learn from artists and storytellers.
Visitors learned about Somerset Place, an antebellum plantation open for tours in Creswell. Somerset Place, which operated from 1785 to 1865, had the third-largest slave population in North Carolina. Alecia Rodgers, a historic interpreter at the plantation, brought brooms made of grass, toothbrushes made of twigs, and bowls, drums and loofahs made out of gourds – all items that would have been used at the plantation.
“This is all about the land,” she said. “You had to use what was available to you.”
Children got a feel for history in the Jim Crow era – they made headlamps out of paper and aluminum foil at a table with information about the Pope House in Raleigh. Now a museum, the Pope House, which was built in 1901, was home to Dr. Manassa Thomas Pope, who was the only African-American man to run for mayor of a Southern capital during Jim Crow.
Children learned the headlamps were significant because when Pope was a doctor, there were no lights. Instead, a mirror was attached to a leather strap and light was reflected off the mirror.
James White, a Civil War re-enactor, said children on Saturday came up to tell him what they had learned at other tables. He showed them bullets, hygiene kits and buttons from the uniforms of soldiers.
“They’re very excited,” he said. “Some of the kids have never seen anything like this.”
Other participants, including Fuquay-Varina artist Pinkie Strother, were showing off the accomplishments of the African-American community.
The love was so thick within the community that you could cut it with a knife.
Strother grew up in rural Maryland during the 1950s and ’60s, and her childhood inspired her painting, sculpting and diorama work, which she said represented the African-American community then.
“The black family was a supportive, creative, talented, strong, resilient group of people,” she said. “We lived together and worked together for the common interest of everyone in the community. The love was so thick within the community that you could cut it with a knife. The foundation of that love has made it possible for me to tell the world what a community and a culture should be like.”
Strother’s works included a diorama of her childhood neighbor’s home and another of a large family eating together at the table.
“There was a father in every house. There was no such thing as divorce,” she said. “Our playground was the woods. Women had a competition to see whose clothes were the cleanest on the line. Cleanliness was a way of determining class.”
Strother said the love she felt at Saturday’s African American Cultural Celebration reminded her of home.
“I like the celebration of all the positive things coming out of the black community,” she said. “It makes me feel like I’m home again in the 50s. I feel so much love here, so much compassion. I feel like the people are on one accord – and that is to celebrate.”
Kathryn Trogdon: 919-460-2608: @KTrogdon