Sumter has always been a place of cultural diversity. In the US Census of 1850, five years after the town of Sumterville was incorporated, the population was divided about 60/40 between citizens of European origin and those of African descent. Slaves began to be emancipated as early as 1783, with some becoming quite prosperous. One notable example is William Ellison, who by 1848 had amassed a plantation encompassing nearly half of Stateburg, and according to Anne King Gregorie’s History of Sumter County, had a net worth of $80-$100,000—nearly $3 million in today’s money, certainly no small accomplishment!
Interestingly, Sumter’s demographic makeup hasn’t changed all that much since the census count of 160 years ago. Today, according to the 2010 Federal Census, we are not quite half white, not quite half black, and a little more than five percent Asian, Latino, or multiracial. Each group brings its own unique opportunities for celebration, education, and promotion of understanding and friendship among the races. In coming weeks, we have three festivals dedicated to the history and accomplishments of African-Americans in Sumter County.
This Saturday, April 6, 2013, Sumter’s Sankofa Connection presents its 7th Annual Cultural Festival. From 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. at Mt. Pisgah AME Church (corner of South Washington and Bartlette Streets), various ceremonies, performances and vendors will, in the words of event organizer Natalie Williams, “promote cultural awareness and stimulate historical learning.” The word “sankofa,” which comes from Ghana, means “remembering the past to build the future.”
Members of the Ibile Drummers will introduce the Festival Queens, Nefertiti, Tiye, Ethiopia’s Candaces, Nzhinga, Hatshepsut, and Makeda. A couple of these names may be familiar to history students—Hatshepsut ruled as ancient Egypt’s most powerful female Pharaoh, and Makeda is otherwise known as the Queen of Sheba.
Following the ceremonial greeting of the queens, the festival gets underway with African drumming and dancing, performances by Dreamworks Dance Studio, the Crestwood High School Band, poet William Nesmith, and dancers representing the Thai and Filipino cultures. And because a festival is just not a festival without foods to try and things to buy, there will also be handmade African dolls, traditional African attire, and several food vendors—one featuring authentic Gullah dishes. Among the exhibitors will be the South Carolina State Museum. Participants will even provide dance lessons and an opportunity to learn a few words of Swahili!
Admission to the festival is free; refreshments will be for sale—and be sure to bring a lawn chair, as there will be plenty to watch! Mt. Pisgah AME Church is located at 217 West Bartlette Street. For more information, please call Ms. Natalie Williams at (803) 406-0832.
No time to settle after this event, because the following weekend will be the annual Festival on the Avenue, held on Manning Avenue in South Sumter. From April 11-13, there will be a golf tournament, Living Museum, a large parade, and “A Taste of Soul on the Avenue,” along with live music (jazz, soul, and gospel), lots of food, crafts, merchandise, and educational exhibits for the entire family. Admission is free. For more info, please call (803) 436-2276, (803) 775-4032 or check it out online.
There. Now you can rest for a moment (actually, a couple of weeks!) before the action starts again with “The Black Cowboy: Man or Myth?” African-American Cultural Festival at Greenfield Farms in Rembert. Sponsored by the Black Cultural Enlightment Society, this year’s event will run from May 2 to May 5. The 16th annual tribute to the untold story of those men who helped settle America’s western frontier will feature workshops (including showing how to prepare cracklins or make your own soap), seminars, farrier and blacksmithing demonstrations, storytelling, and a documentary screening. But aside from the fascinating educational opportunities, there’s also a lot of pure fun to be had, including a fish fry, Cowboy Breakfast, trail ride, line dancing, and a Western Dinner and Dance on Friday, May 3 from 7 p.m. until 1 a.m. Horse shows, arts and crafts, music, African drums and dance, food (including chitlins, greens, cornbread, and sweet potato pie), kids’ entertainment and more will round out the offerings.
Greenfield Farms is located at 4585 Spencer Road in Rembert, SC, 29128. Admission for adults begins at $15; tickets may be purchased online here. Campers are welcome. Get more info online, call (803) 499-9658, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sumter has always had the good fortune of being uniquely diverse, especially for a Southern town that began with its roots in the soil and the railroads. Join in the fun as we celebrate the cosmopolitan community that we are today!
by Colette Daniels