African- American Day Festival 2018
by Cate Murway
“A people without the knowledge of their past history, origin and culture is like a tree without roots. ...”
Marcus Mosiah Garvey, Jr., Civil Rights Activist [1887-1940]
Music and ethnic festivals enliven and enrich the Bristol Borough waterfront throughout the summer.
It’s great to revive African-American history in Bucks County; it’s hidden but it’s very powerful.
This country was built on the backs of slaves.
The Bucks County African-Americans for Future Education [BCAAFFE] will present their signature event, the 24th Annual African-American Day Festival on Saturday, August 18th. This is a celebration of the rich heritage and those with a long history of entrepreneurship who have made a difference in the past.
All are invited to enjoy a day of entertainment, fellowship, family fun, crafts, art, music, food, exhibitors and more that will command the entire Lion’s Park. Rain date is Sunday August 19th.
Dance acts will include the local award-winning Dancing Divas of Bristol and the Center of Attention Dance Company. And the food?
A diverse range of food will be provided, including African, Caribbean, halal lamb gyros and soul food chicken wings along with a most popular dish, African cassava, prepared with greens, beef, chicken and peppers over rice.
One of the prime focuses of the African American Historical and Cultural Society of Bucks County [AAHCSBC], a 501(c)(3)nonprofit, has always been researching, documenting and sharing the historical footprint of African Americans in Bucks County. The organization is most proud of the 6-foot tall Harriet “Hat” [Ross] Tubman statue located at Lions Park along the Delaware River in Bristol Borough that was dedicated in 2005.
She stands determined with her finger pointed to the North Star. Morrisville sculptor James L. Gafgen created the statue and William H. Smith designed the original drawings for the memorial. Sydney L. Taylor, BHS ’53, the late president of the AAHCS was the visionary gentleman who led the effort to make the free-standing statue a reality.
The statue acknowledges the contributions of blacks as well as whites to the cultural fabric of Bristol.
The AAHCS raised $170,000 through grants and fundraising to erect the statue.
The members passionately present the rich cultural history of African Americans in Bucks County through lectures and historical presentations at local schools, senior centers, festivals and various venues throughout the year to illustrate their history.
Five foot two Harriet “Hat” Ross Tubman [1822-1913], born into slavery as Araminta "Minty” Ross, was the first woman “conductor” on the legendary Underground Railroad, a labyrinth network of routes, using the North Star as a guide, as well as people and houses that helped slaves escape to freedom. This true heroine was the daughter of Benjamin Ross and Harriet "Rit" Green, slaves brought from Africa in chains. She was a work horse, and worked and worked and worked for her people until she was dust in the ground. All that work came at a price. Not only was Harriet Tubman subject to the brutality of her slave master, but she was in peril of being sold out by the very people she was trying to save.
“Moses”, as Tubman came to be known, served the Union during the Civil War as spy, scout, nurse, and cook, and even battlefield commander. She died in 1913 in Auburn, NY and was buried with military honors.
Lifelong Bristol Borough resident, AAHCS Secretary/Treasurer [Marie] Louise Davis, MFA from Tyler School of Art, often expertly portrays Harriet in educational events nationwide to share details about her important life and to shed light on slavery, which Tubman herself once said was "the next thing to hell."
Long before Harriet Tubman was mentioned to earn a spot on the $20 bill, Louise Davis was working to remind America of her third-cousin’s legacy.
P.S. The Harriet Tubman $20 Bill Plan has been put on the back burner, so she won’t be in your wallet anytime soon.
Louise’s great-grandfather, William Henry Harrison Ross, was the brother of Tubman's father, Benjamin Ross. Recently in Langhorne Borough, Louise portrayed Harriet at the “Juneteenth – Celebrating Freedom!”, the oldest known celebration in this country, commemorating the ending of slavery, which dates back to June 19, 1865.
Audiences were truly captivated when Louise spoke in character as the petite, fearless “conductor” of the intricate network known as the Underground Railroad who led hundreds of slaves to freedom on multiple harrowing trips into and out of the South, at the “Harriet Tubman and Other Truths,” at the Grounds for Sculpture, in Hamilton, N.J.
Louise maintains continued involvement in education, the arts, history and the ways in which these areas of interest intersect.
She is ardently involved with AAHCSBC in their quest for completion of their regional library/museum/meeting place in Lower Bucks which could intensely foster a deeper sense of continuity and connection both within and between all ethnicities.
Louise’s mother was the first black member of the school board in Bristol.
The AAHCS continues to acquire cultural artifacts and books for its regional library/museum/diversity center / meeting place located at 4001 Fayette Drive in Bristol Township. The members encourage the pursuit of knowledge through the acquisition and preservation of the collection of artifacts, the sharing of the information, and the preservation of black history. This provides a window to view the multi- dimensional trajectory of a complicated and creative joint effort to release so very many from slavery to freedom.
A diverse, dedicated group of professionals are avidly invested in this project.
Actor/ Coach/ Director Deanna L. Derry is currently serving as a BCAAFFE committee chair, “trying to reclaim the Afro-American legacy and to celebrate, learn, and provide this using arts and entertainment. I enjoyed the variety of books and the dramatic readings at the Fayette Drive location. It’s a very intimate set up.”
Deanna will be “running logistics and meeting with the entertainment” at the August 18thevent this year but she has been attending Afro-American Days since she was 10 years old. She performed in the Platinum Steppers drill team in the parade. “It’s great to all come together and celebrate peacefully. Louise Davis ardently brings the history about the culture.”
Deanna is currently the pre-school director at Stages Academy and has taught Drama, Music and Spanish in the full STEAM [plus traditional academics], a blended curriculum performing arts school since 2013. She also serves as Director of the Youth Ministry at the Bible Evangelical Methodist Church in Venice Ashby. Her younger sisters are active in that Ministry.
Deanna began studying Fashion Merchandising at Cheyney University, the nation's oldest historically Black institution of higher education founded in 1837, but she changed her major and graduated with a BA in Theatre Arts. “Theatre is my passion.” She served as the 2010-2011 President of the National Council of Negro Women- Cheyney.
After graduation, she worked for the AmeriCorps Program in City Year Los Angeles, an innovative national service program designed to harness the energy and ingenuity of American citizens to address the nation's most pressing challenges. She was awarded a scholarship to Eastern University where she continued her education and earned her Master of Arts in Urban Studies degree.
Some of her students from Stages Academy have enrolled in Girl Scouting so Deanna has also assumed the role of Daisy Troop Leader #2384 in Fairless Hills.
History has always captivated her. As a youth, she befriended an unforgettable neighbor.
The late historian Walter Jacobs, Jr. who died in 2009, maintained the historic records of the Bethlehem AME Church in Langhorne, founded in 1809, where Deanna and her family were members of the congregation.
He devoted decades to chronicling Bucks County's African American heritage and he put them on display for Black History Month. He made the books by hand and assembled his collection of photographs, letters, veterans' certificates, and medals after interviewing longtime residents. He scoured census records and newspaper articles, creating narratives of family histories written in longhand.
“You come from an amazing group of people. No one will ever tell you the amazing things they did,” he told Deanna. “He showed me a cane that looked like a crutch. It belonged to my great grandmother’s Aunt who made more than one trip from VA to Langhorne. She walked with her family.”
Until World War II, African Americans were largely excluded from the official history of the United States, not that they were unmentioned, since one cannot conceive USA history that does not deal with slavery, abolitionism, the Civil War, and Reconstruction, but they had been part of everything but just don't get proper recognition.
The AACHS’ unified goal is for a growing acceptance of a more holistic history of the United States.
Army veteran CW-3 Raymond V. “Ray” Osborne served in Vietnam during his military career that spanned from 1959-1983. He was born in Bristol Twp. He and his siblings were removed from their mother’s care during the WWII years. Ray and his brothers were sent to the Bureau for Colored Children Farm & Vocational School in Pomeroy, Chester County, PA. The BCC, founded in 1927, was one of the largest childcare institutions in PA, also operating a shelter at 321 North 41st Street in Philadelphia for dependent and neglected African American children where his sisters were sent.
Ray was always most interested in History, “particularly black history; it just pulled me in”.
The more he learned, the more it held him. “Slavery was not a charitable organization. Young people need to understand from whence we came. If they see where we started and where we are headed, that will get them involved. Don’t use excuses. Go for it. Every ethnicity is more than willing to give encouragement and a hand to move forward.”
When he graduated from Gordon Junior High and was permitted to return to reside with his mother, he graduated from Delhaas HS in 1957.
“I worked at W. T. Grant on Mill Street.”
Ray resides in NJ but he still has family in Bristol and he will be providing “logistical support” at the African-American festival.
“This is where we started, this is what we endured. We just continue to strive to achieve the next level.
Black History is American History. Industrialization was made possible through our part.”
He collects books and has donated many to the Fayette Drive library. “We’re making progress and making educational opportunities available.
Ray is most impacted by Frederick Douglass’ 1852 speech "What To The Slave Is The 4th Of July?" He was a former slave himself, who became a leader in the 19th Century Abolitionist Movement.
Aamira Teresa Rollins is the eldest of 5 but her grandfather was one of 22 kids from Hawkinsville, GA.
Her mother Tommie Dennis is the youngest of ten.
She is a retired Philadelphia School District educator with 3 sons and a daughter. She read a local newspaper ad for the AAHCSBC and contacted Louise Davis and happily joined the group.
Aamira majored in History at Cheyney University, earning a Secondary Ed degree.
“I am pleased to help with offering educational opportunities to the public in all eras. I created an exhibit on African American dolls; facsimiles of some found unintentionally left at the Underground Railroad's hiding places from the slavery period.”
Her “yard art” bottle tree exhibit will be on display this year at the 2018 AADay Festival.
Glass 'bottle trees' originated in ninth century Congo during a period when superstitious Central African people believed that genies [from the Arabic word djinn] or imps could be captured in a bottle. *Remember Aladdin and his magic lamp?
This practice was imported into the Americas by African slaves who created bottle trees from dead trees or large limbs next to their quarters and adorned them with glass bottles scavenged from their master’s garbage piles, often referred to as “poor man's stained glass”.
“It’s a lost piece of history from slavery times where colored bottles were encapsulated on a tree as a front yard decoration in remembrance of their ancestors. It is an African tradition that glass emanates light and frequency of prayer.”
The bottle trees have a long history as an element of spiritual, cultural, and aesthetic significance and one can easily be transfixed with their beauty, simplicity and ancient past.
Now bottle trees, festooned with bottles of many colors, are mostly just used as interesting garden ornaments that glisten in the sun, but the blue bottles are still considered "best". Blue bottles were coveted, because they repelled evil and trapped night spirits to be destroyed by the rising sun.
Any bet that many Milk of Magnesia bottles ended up on trees?
Aamira is a “Friend of the Levittown Library” where she volunteers with the book gathering committee to prepare for their book sales but she loves Bristol! “It is intimate and very multi-cultural. What a jewel. You cannot just drive through.”
There is an African American culture in America, and this culture is unique, rich, and distinctive with its values, beliefs, behaviors, and material objects that together form a people’s way of life through a long journey encompassing slavery and freedom.
The AAHCS recently hosted a Flea Market on June 30th at their library/museum/diversity center / meeting place located at 4001 Fayette Drive where all were invited to sell their useable goods, chat, and make new friends.
Come connect with them! They meet the 2nd Saturday of each month at 1:00PM.
Join and help preserve Bucks County’s African American history and educate ALL about its rich heritage.
The AAHCS accepts donations and all contributions are tax deductible, subject to IRS limitations.
The family-friendly Annual African-American Day Festival on Saturday, August 18th [Rain Date: Sunday, August 19th] is an excellent meeting venue to exchange cultural and artistic experiences and create a more diversified, tolerant and respectful attitude toward one another while celebrating the history of pivotal figures who have changed the world, shaping the one we live in today.
There will be a sensory overload of vendors, a wealth of happenings and plenty of food to enjoy!
Soul food and music along with unity will be the focus.
Please direct further questions re: African American Day to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Proceeds from this event will help the host with its Annual BCAAFFE Scholarship Fund.
The Bucks County African-Americans for Future Education’s mission is to empower and further educate youths. Donations made payable to BCAAFFE for the scholarship fund can be sent to:
P.O. Box 24
Bristol, PA 19007
African American Historical and Cultural Society of Bucks County
P.O. Box 1532
Bristol, PA 19007
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