Theme of festival was unity

August 18, 1997


Staff Writer

SHEPHERDSTOWN, W.Va. - The command from the pulpit of Asbury United Methodist Church Sunday afternoon matched the theme of this weekend's fifth annual Jefferson County African-American Cultural and Heritage Festival: Let There be Unity.

Nearly 100 people attended the interdenominational worship service at the Rev. Ernest Lyles' church on Route 480.

The service was the final event in the three-day celebration, which included a Friday night banquet at Shepherd College featuring syndicated talk show host Joe Madison and a Saturday afternoon parade in Charles Town, W.Va., with Buffalo Soldiers, the Apostle Dance Troupe and the Harpers Ferry High School Drum and Bugle Corps.

"We want to conclude the festival with something very, very strong, positive and uplifting," said organizer Gladys Davenport, public relations director of the Jefferson County National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.


The Rev. Ronald Paige, assistant pastor at St. Luke Baptist Church in Berryville, Va., roused the audience with his sermon, "A Noise in the Valley," - the story of the valley of dry bones from Ezekiel 37: 1-10.

"The United States in not united, but scattered. There's still time for God's people to come together," Paige said.

"Our communities are lacking and no one wants to give back. God is calling us to get up and do something. We've been dead too long," he said.

Sallie Stewart, 57, from Greenbelt, Md., agreed.

"People need to unite. That's the only way we'll accomplish anything," said Stewart.

Before the offering, the Ambassadors of Christ sang two songs - one titled, "Rain Down on Me." Before they finished, rain from a terrific downpour splattered on the church windows.

Paige said he wants the black community to enter the 21st century strong, united and actively involved in issues like education and the future of criminal justice system.

An estimated 2,500 people attended the weekend's events, Davenport said.

"This year they had things for young people to do - the program last night centered on youth. We need to do more of that," Stewart said.

"We try to show the creative, positive sides of African Americans, but the program is not exclusive to African Americans," Davenport said. "We want everyone to come together and enjoy themselves and not think about `I'm black, I'm white, orange or green.' "

Davenport said non-blacks should attend cultural events to experience the full range of America's melting pot.

"Television shows a lot of negative portrayals of African Americans. Then people see Michael Jordan and say, `Well, there's one positive.' But there's not just one or two - there's a bunch of us out here," Davenport explained.

"It's a continuing challenge," said Bishop Eugene Baltimore, grand marshal of this year's parade and Jefferson County NAACP's first president.

"We're always saying, `We shall overcome.' Now it's time to look at ourselves and say we are overcomers - we are not where we used to be," said Baltimore, 85, of Ranson, W.Va.

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