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Clarksburg's Black Heritage Festival marks 10 years of cultural

by Paul Darst

STAFF WRITER

A steady flow of people crowded around one particular display this weekend at the West Virginia Black Heritage Festival.

Many of those who stopped by went to school with the artist whose work was displayed there. Others lived near where he was raised in Clarksburg.

Today, they all know John Holyfield's work. Although the artist himself could not attend the 10th annual festival, he was there in spirit.

"He had an art show in Philadelphia this weekend," said Roberta Freeman, Holyfield's aunt. "A lot of people around here follow his work."

The display of Holyfield's work was just one of the attractions at the now decade-old celebration of black culture. The event started Friday night on E.B. Saunders Way, formerly Water Street, with a block party, said Allen Lee, one of the founders of the festival.

It continued Saturday with music and dancing, food vendors, games and more.

"This started out small, but has grown every year," said Pastor David Kates, Clarksburg's mayor. "It has become more of an ethnic event than just one for black heritage. We have people of all different races here."

Lee and the late Marie McCoy started the festival.

"It really started as a rummage sale," Lee said. "Then, somebody suggested we have a little bit of music, then people started bringing something to eat. That's when we got the idea to turn it in to a festival."

Many people, like Holyfield's family, attend the event every year. And every year, his paintings attract much attention.

"He is the only local artist featured here," Kates said.

Holyfield now lives in the Washington D.C. area, Freeman said. His paintings have attracted national and international attention. One recently was purchased by Oprah Winfrey, she said.

The crowd at this year's event on Saturday was thin early because of threatening skies. But by the afternoon, the clouds were gone, and the people starting arriving. Saturday evening, E.B. Saunders Way and surrounding streets were lined with cars.

People from Clarksburg, Fairmont, Buckhannon, Morgantown and around North Central West Virginia attend the event each year, Lee said.

The festival will continue today with a gospel sing at 1:30 p.m. Lee said. The sing will honor Dewey Fox, of Fairmont, who is more than 100 years old, Lee said.

The event is scheduled to wrap up at 6 p.m., he said.

Staff writer Paul Darst can be reached at 626-1404, or on the Internet at pdarst@Exponent-Telegram.com.

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