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Black Heritage Festival marks seventh year

by Paul Leakan


(September 13) All along E.B. Saunders Way, you could hear it, taste it and see it.

Smoke was billowing toward the sky as ribs, chicken, hamburgers and fish roasted atop barbecues. Drums echoed into the crowd. Families and friends reunited.

And as Clarksburg's seventh annual Black Heritage Festival kicked off Saturday at 10 a.m., you could see and feel the energy in the crowd.

"We look forward to it each year," said Jim Matthews, a former Clarksburg resident who made the trip from West Palm Beach, Fla. "Why else would you drive in a vehicle for two days?"

Matthews sold fried conch served with a choice of marmalade and hot mustard or hot sauce. He said conch is a delicacy in Florida, New Orleans and the Bahamas. As far as the taste ... well, perhaps Matthews explains it best: "It doesn't quite taste like lobster or anything. It does taste a little like scallops."

While Matthews dished out heaps of conch, Beverly North of North View sliced up what she said is a crowd favorite -- sweet potato pie. Last year, Beverly and her husband Otto sold 89 sweet potato pies.

Food wasn't the only item on the event's menu, however. Music, arts and crafts, ethnic dance and games for children highlighted the day.

Paschal Young, the director of the West Virginia University Drumming and Dance Ensemble, was happy to be able to bring a taste of African songs and dances to Clarksburg.

"It's cool because you want for African-Americans to recognize that their sisters came from somewhere," said Young, who hails from Ghana in West Africa. "And there's no better way to do it than this festival where they can relate to the arts, music and dance from Africa."

The festival is getting bigger each year, according to Ray Smith, who is one of the festival directors. This year the event boasts around 32 vendors, including some from Pittsburgh, Pa., Youngstown, Ohio, Herndon, Va., Fairmont and Florida.

The event evolved from a rummage sale to a full-scale festival in 1991. It was originally called the Emancipation Proclamation Black Heritage festival, according to chairman and director Allen Lee.

Ray Smith hopes that next year the festival can attract some famous stars such as Harry Belafonte, Maya Angelou, The Four Tops or The Platters.

But like many area festivals hoping to grow, generating more funds will be the key.

"Funds keep us from getting back to the big time," Lee said. "We hope to reach that status soon."

The festival continues with a gospel sing at around 1:30 or 2 p.m. today.

"Everybody's invited to come to join in," said Lee. "If people have musical instruments with them, come on and bring them along."

If they want to sing, sing along. Just come down and enjoy yourself."