African American Festival at Fort Frederica

The last Saturday of February, as we have for five of the last six years, Fort Frederica hosted an African American Festival.  This is the culmination of Black History month for us.  Two years ago we dedicated the Abbott Cemetery and had an attendance of 900 people.  This year’s attendance was much smaller, perhaps reflective of the ongoing pandemic or the lack of advertising about the event.

The African American Festival was planned by our two new rangers, Rangers Sarah and Bob.  Both of them have worked here about six months, so they had never been to one of our big special events.  But they worked hard at planning it and the day came off with few problems.

There were fourteen exhibitors booths.  Some of the people returned from the African American Festival two years ago.  The Georgia Department of Transportation came with lots of bling.  Three of their staff archaeologists talked about the work they do before beginning any big projects.  The Corps of Engineers also had a booth with some good giveaways.  The Cassina Garden Club returned with their well-done maps, showing the locations of the 14 plantations on St. Simons Island.  Hofwyl-Broadfield Plantation State Historic Site had their excellent rice exhibit.

Fort Mose Historic State Park had a delegation at the African American Festival.  Fort Mose was a Spanish fort north of St. Augustine that was manned by free black men.  They are always very popular at the festival because they do a demonstration of firing – the Bland drill in Spanish.  When I mentioned to the “The Capitan” that I was glad to see them because they were so popular, he said they were popular because they were loud and colorful.  They are indeed!  Fort Mose just got a grant from the State of Florida to reconstruct parts of their fort and they are very excited about the possibility.

Reconstruction Era National Historical Park in Beaufort, South Carolina, sent one of its rangers.  The Abbott Institute had some representatives.  Fort Frederica had a booth for the first time.

Children’s Activity at Gullah Geechee Tent
Me with the ranger from Reconstruction Era
Abbott Institute

I didn’t get much of a chance to get around to see all the exhibitors.  I worked at the Gullah Geechee Heritage Corridor table during the morning, and then at the Visitors Center in the afternoon.  Every time I tried to go talk to the exhibitors, I got called away to do something else.  Even though we didn’t have as large a crowd as previously, we were still plenty busy.

I also relieved the people in the Gullah Geechee tent at 12:30 when the Ring Shouters performed.  The Ring Shouters are the biggest draw and almost everyone at the African American Festival attends their presentation.  Their show was a little different this year.  I could hear it but I couldn’t see it from where I was working.  They also have some younger dancers, so it is nice to think that they won’t die out in a few years.

Artist SA Hunter talking to visitors

In addition to the exhibitors, we also had two vendors.  S. A. Hunter came again to display her art and talk to people about what she is doing.  We got to display her pieces all during February, and, as always, I was enthralled by their vibrant colors and energy.  I bought some of her notecards because I had run out of the ones I bought two years ago.

The other vendor was David Loehle from Barrier Island Baskets.  He is a local artist that incorporates wood into the sweet grass baskets that he weaves.  Although he trained with a sweet grass basket maker from Charleston, David makes bowls and baskets that are uniquely beautiful.  We sell them in our gift shop, but it was nice to meet the artist.

The African American Festival wound down around 3 p.m. and the rangers and volunteers immediately started putting the tents, tables, and chairs away.  By 4 p.m. there wasn’t a trace of the festival remaining, except for items that needed to be returned to their normal places.  Rangers Sarah and Bob were especially tired and ready to go home, although they did their duty and remained until the park closed at 5 p.m.

Tom and I have been privileged to be part of all five of the African American Festivals here at Fort Frederica.   They are always a fun day with gorgeous weather and lots of very interested visitors.  This year was no exception.