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Festival puts African-American history in the spotlight

CHARLES TOWN – It’s tough to think of a place in the United States with richer African-American history than Jefferson County.

Abolitionist John Brown staged his failed 1859 raid here, and then stood trial for treason and was publicly executed.

The famed Storer College, one of the first Southern schools for freed blacks after the Civil War, was here.

George Rutherford, a longtime organizer of Charles Town’s African-American Culture & Heritage Festival, stands in front of the historic Fisherman’s Hall. The 22nd-annual festival begins Friday.

George Rutherford, a longtime organizer of Charles Town’s African-American Culture & Heritage Festival, stands in front of the
historic Fisherman’s Hall. The 22nd-annual festival begins Friday.

Martin Delany, the most decorated African-American soldier to fight for the Union in the Civil War, was born in Charles Town.

This weekend’s 22nd-annual African American Culture & Heritage Festival will showcase the area’s history – and also serve up music, food and other kinds of fun.

The festival began in 1992, the brainchild of the late Ollie Tolbert, who in 1946 served as one of the founders of the county’s NAACP chapter.

The Jefferson County chapter of the NAACP sponsors the festival, which kicks off Friday with a job fair at 243 Delaney Place in Charles Town from 2 to 5 p.m.

The festival is open to everyone and will include Saturday’s noontime parade from Third Avenue and George Street in Ranson to Charles Town.

On Sunday, festival partici

pants will make a morning pilgrimage to the historic John Brown Fort site. The walk comes in mid-August, just as in 1906 when W.E.B. DuBois made a similar trek with more than 100 other members of the Second Niagara Movement, the group that’s considered the predecessor of the NAACP.

Niagara members were meeting on the campus of Storer on Aug. 17, 1906, when the group won permission for a solemn walk to the fort site, located on a farm owned by Alexander and Mary Murphy.

Those who walk to the Murphy Farm follow the practice of DuBois and others who made the walk in 1906 and remove their shoes and socks as they walk on what’s viewed as holy ground.

A few years after the Niagara Movement walk, the college bought Brown’s fort and relocated to its campus. In the 1960s, after the Brown v. Board of Education desegregation decision and the closure of Storer, the building was acquired by the Harpers Ferry National Historic Park and reassembled to where it sits today, about 150 feet from its original location.

Following Sunday’s walk, the festival will conclude with an ecumenical service at the Curtis Freewill Baptist Church, which dates to 1867. The church is located off Storer College Place in Harpers Ferry.

Other highlights of the festival include a fashion show, gospel concert, youth block party, a kids workshop sponsored by Home Depot, a Health Fair put on by Health Pact of Washington, D.C., free pony rides and moon bounce, R&B music, giveaways and announcements.

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