The Sumter community continues full-speed into 2011, celebrating community members who have gone on to make a lasting mark upon the world. February 18 and 19, 2011 will celebrate the work of Dr. Arthenia Jackson Bates Millican and other writers of cultural significance, with the Third Annual Millican Festival, “Cultural Dimensions: What Makes Us Different, Makes Us Better.”
If ever there were an unlikely celebrity, Dr. Millican would in many ways fit that description. Nearly a decade ago, I was in my office tending to some daily work, when a bright-eyed bundle in heavy coat, fur hat and fur-lined boots appeared at the door and asked if she might speak with me for a moment. Although she was obviously not a young woman (she celebrated her 90th birthday last year), her lively speech and sprightly but dignified bearing made her seem quite youthful. At the time, the Sumter Convention & Visitors Bureau was working on a brochure highlighting African-American history in the community, and this lady had a few ideas that she wanted to share.
When she had gone, I turned to a co-worker and asked, “Who was that?” It was only then that I discovered I had just been in the presence of one of the major unsung heroes of the African-American literary movement of the Civil Rights era. Upon acquainting myself with her work, I was stunned at both the quality of her writing and the controversial subjects she so fearlessly tackled, from the fear felt by black mothers throughout the South following the murder of Emmett Till, to the lure of the Nation of Islam in the 1960’s. In between, she delivered some wry and truly funny observations about life growing up in a small Southern community.
With a forty-year teaching career, an earned PhD from Louisiana State University, books, poems and short stories published worldwide, an NEA fellowship and other accolades too numerous to mention, Dr. Millican is a literary force to be reckoned with, a fact that is increasingly recognized by cultural historians, academicians and other authors. There is far too much to say about her for me to include here, but a comprehensive history of her life and work can be found online at www.artheniambates.com.
This year’s festival includes arts and crafts, open mic, spoken word performances, music and dance in a variety of venues between Sumter and Columbia. It marks the third year of celebrating Dr. Millican and the writers that she has worked with or influenced, both directly and indirectly. The featured speaker for the main program, to be held February 19th at Patriot Hall, is the poet Nikky Finney. Ms. Finney herself, who hails from a prominent and accomplished Sumter family, has a formidable literary background of her own and is certain to be a compelling keynote speaker. She will be joined by activist and social critic Kalamu Ya Salaam, and poet Marjory Wentworth.
For more info on this event, please log on to the Community Events Calendar at www.sumtersc.gov.