By LEIGH C. MERRIFIELD
News & Journal Editor
The streets of uptown Clarksburg will see lots of traffic again this weekend as attendees make their way to the 25th anniversary celebration of the West Virginia Black Heritage Festival. According to Jim Griffin, who chairs the WVBHF’s Board of Directors, great strides have been made over this quarter of a century.
“We began, thanks to the efforts of Mr. Allen Lee, as just a fundraiser for the former Kelly Miller School, a segregated high school in Clarksburg,” said Mr. Griffin. “What has evolved has been a very family-friendly festival that draws people of all diversities and from all over our state. The fact that our area has so many cultural festivals – Scottish, Greek, Italian, and African-American – emphasizes the diversity of our local area. And, actually, probably 60% of those attending our festival are non-African-American so that speaks volumes about the way we as Americans now accept those of different cultures!”
Griffin says that numerous things attribute to the growth of this festival – the fact that it is so family-friendly, the great entertainment, the quality vendors, our generous sponsors, and the hard work of the festival’s volunteer Directors who work all year to bring about this three-day festival.
One major change this year is the fact that the WV Black Heritage Festival is moving to uptown Clarksburg!
“We have always held our festival on what is now called E.B. Saunders Way (formerly Water Street) because that is where Kelly Miller School was situated and it had historical significance for that reason. This year, though, in honor of our 25th anniversary, we are moving to the downtown area,” Griffin noted. “There are several advantages. For one thing, we had simply outgrown E.B. Saunders Way and have had to turn away vendors on some occasions due to limited space. Parking will also be more convenient, and we’ll just have more space to accommodate more folks and more activities.”
Griffen says this year’s move is on a trial basis; however it could become permanent.
“I am sure that if all goes well, this is something the Board will look at very strongly in the future – especially since our festival immediately follows the Italian Heritage Festival. Their festival is always held on Labor Day weekend; ours is always the weekend following Labor Day. Now, with our move uptown, we will have the opportunity to utilize electrical and water hookups that are already in place. And perhaps in the future, we could discuss sharing stage costs since our festivals are back-to-back. These will be considerations.”
Typically, the WV Black Heritage Festival brings approximately 8,000 people to the area during the three-day festival. Griffen says that if future festivals continue to be held in uptown Clarksburg, he expects even more growth – in vendors and attendance.
Last year, Angela Jennings brought her Sankofa African-American Museum on Wheels to the WVBHF for one day. This year, because there is more room, the museum will be in Clarksburg every day during the festival.
“This lady has made four trips to Africa and has collected a lot of African-American items – artifacts, stamps, books, articles, figurines, invention replicas and historical memorabilia. It is really something to see and shows a great deal of the progress from the Emancipation Proclamation right up to the White House,” Griffin commented. “We will be working with our Board of Education to promote this and to make it available for all the students in our school system to see.”
Mr. Griffen continued, noting that extraordinary entertainment has always been a huge drawing card for the WV Black Heritage Festival and results in Saturday being their “big” day. This year will be no exception! Following opening ceremonies at noon on Saturday, September 12th, the Courthouse Plaza stage will feature a steady stream of live music … the Dennis McClung Blues Band at 2 p.m., followed by Old School Band at 3:30 p.m. followed by Shades of Soul at 5 p.m. and Hardwood Connection at 6:30 p.m. Evening headliners will be The Intruders at 7:45 p.m. and Dennis Edwards’ Temptations Review at 9 p.m.
Griffen added, “We’ve already had lots of people asking about the absence of The Marcels this year! This doo-wop group has been with us for probably the last 15 years and is always popular. It wasn’t because they weren’t asked, but the date caused some confusion. Because Labor Day is a little later this year, that throws our festival a week later as well, and unfortunately they had already accepted an invitation in Las Vegas. They were regretful that they couldn’t attend and I’m sure they’ll be missed, but I don’t anyone will be disappointed in the vocal groups we’ll have on the stage this year.”
The first feature of the WV Black Heritage Festival is always its ‘Youth Block Party’ on Friday evening that typically draws attendance from approximately 800 youth. All these activities this year will be held at Jackson Square in uptown Clarksburg beginning at 6 p.m. on Friday, September 11th. Thanks to help from McDonald’s, there will be lots of giveaways … and Pierpont Community College will also be on have to talk to the youth about furthering their education.
“We always give away a $500 scholarship to help a young person further their education,” Griffen stated. “This year, in honor of our 25th anniversary and thanks to Dominion, we will be giving two $2,500 scholarships and we are very excited to be able to do this!”
The WV Black Heritage Festival will close on Sunday, but not before having six hours of scheduled activities. Sunday opens at 11 a.m. with outdoor non-denominational church services on the Courthouse Plaza. At 2 p.m. ‘Gospel Explosion’ will perform on the Plaza and closing ceremonies are at 6 p.m.
Plan to spend some time in the heart of uptown Clarksburg this weekend attending the WV Black Heritage Festival! It is three days of food, crafts, gift shopping, and LOTS of entertainment – everything from doo-wop to funk to jazz, blues and gospel!