THIS year marks the 30th anniversary of the Savannah Black Heritage Festival.
The festival was a brainchild of Westley Wallace Law, a civil rights activist and president of the Savannah chapter of the NAACP, and his legacy will be honored through this year’s festivities.
“He worked with the City of Savannah, who has been supportive of the festival since its beginning,” shares festival organizer Shirley James.
The City of Savannah partnered with Savannah State University to create a jam-packed lineup of black culture, art, and heritage.
One highlight of the festival is the Bright Star Children’s Touring Theatre, coming to town from Asheville, North Carolina.
“They have programs and performances that cover all kinds of topics,” says James. “What we really like is that their performances are not only informative, but they’re character-building. We take them into the schools with programs that are appropriate for kindergarten through 12th grade, and we also offer them in the general community.”
Bright Star will perform two programs for the public: “Black History Hall of Fame” on Feb. 11 and 14, and “George Washington Carver and Friends” on Feb. 13 and 15.
Another favorite event is the Cleo Parker Robinson Dance Ensemble performance on Feb. 6.
The ensemble, led by Robinson, uses dance to honor African American heritage. In addition to a public performance, Robinson leads workshops at Garrison, Savannah Arts Academy, and Savannah State.
“She loves that interaction, and we love to provide that opportunity for our aspiring dancers,” says James.
The marquee event of the festival is Grand Festival Day, an annual favorite, on Feb. 9.
“We started incorporating a health fair into the Grand Festival Day maybe 12 or 13 years ago,” recalls James, “to address some of the disparities in health, especially as they affect the black American community, but also Savannah.”
The kickoff event for Grand Festival Day is a Historic Health Walk. Presented by Walk Georgia, the walk will trace the postal route that W.W. Law took.
“W.W. Law was a U.S. Postal employee, and there’s a whole story behind that because of his work in civil rights,” says James. “He had the credentials to teach, but in those days, if you were active in the NAACP or other civil rights groups, that was held against you.”
Another way W.W. Law will be honored during the festival is at a panel discussion at the Jepson Center on Feb. 13. The speakers include a historian, a preservationist, an aesthete, and a community activist.
“Mr. Law was instrumental in that he was a lover of fine arts and he was into historic preservation and preserving African American history ere in the city,” says James. “For the panel, we have identified four persons who have had personal relationships and interactions with Mr. Law in the areas he’s left his legacy.”
The festival will pay homage to another late local legend, the jazz musician Ben Tucker, at the annual Future of Jazz concert on Feb. 12.
“The young people that Teddy Adams locates throughout the Southeast are such talented young people,” says James. “He finds them from middle school all through grad school. He has connections being in the world of jazz and music, and he puts these calls out and they come.”
A new feature of the festival is the Sons of Mystro on Feb. 15.
Typically, the big concert at the festival comes at the end of the Grand Festival Day, but the Sons of Mystro are performing separately.
“They’re two young men—brothers in their 20s—classically trained violinists, but they not only play classical music but they play reggae and American pop songs,” says James. “It’s so awesome that we’re able to present them for our young people. They’ve been on Saturday Night at the Apollo and the Steve Harvey Show.”
As racism and intolerance still pervade our society, festivals like the Savannah Black Heritage Festival serve an important purpose in bringing people together.
“Over the past 30 years, we’ve shown how black heritage and culture have influenced art,” says James. “That’s our mission. Since I’ve been working with the festival, we try to take various activities into various parts of the city and use different venues so we can bring people together. Maybe if they focus on what’s being presented—on the art, on the dance, on the music—everybody’s kind of in the same place. Maybe subliminally, they’re getting a message [of acceptance] across. That’s my hope.”
Cleo Parker Robinson Dance Ensemble
When: Wed., Feb. 6, 7:30 p.m. Price: Free, open seating Legendary dancer Cleo Parker Robinson performs.The presentation of 2019 honorees includes Dr. Peggy Blood, Kenya Cabine, Cynthia Collins and Dr. Cheryl Dozier.
Civic Center, 301 West Oglethorpe Ave.
Grand Festival Day
When: Sat., Feb. 9, 8:30 a.m.-9 p.m. Price: $5 all day admission An array of family-oriented activities ending with a star-studded concert.
The Savannah Civic Center
301 West Oglethorpe Ave
Expressing 30 Years of Diversity, Black Heritage and Culture through Art
When: Sun., Feb. 10, 3 p.m. Exhibition and co-lecture featuring Richard Law, Karla Marriott, and Tyriq Maxwell.
113 E. Montgomery Cross Rd.
When: Sun., Feb. 10, 5:30 p.m. Featuring Lamar Campbell and Spirit of Praise. Opening performances by the SSU Wesleyan and Anointed Voices, GSU/Armstrong Gospel choirs, and the Savannah Mass Choir of the GMWA.
Overcoming by Faith Ministries, 9700 Middleground Rd.
Black History Hall of Fame
When: Mon., Feb. 11, 6:30 p.m. Price: Free and open to the public
Presented by Bright Star Children's Touring Theatre.
Litway Baptist Church
2335 Shell Road
Annual Future of Jazz Concert and Tribute to the Late Ben Tucker
When: Tue., Feb. 12, 7 p.m.
Featuring local and regional young jazz vocalists and instrumentalists.
5111 Abercorn St.
Celebrating Savannah's Law, Pt. 2
When: Wed., Feb. 13, 6:30 p.m.
A historian, preservationist, aesthete and community activist share W.W. Law's impact and legacy in Savannah.
Jepson Center for the Arts
207 West York St.
Black History Hall of Fame
When: Thu., Feb. 14, 6:30 p.m. Price: Free and open to the public Presented by Bright Star Children's Touring Theatre.
St. Philip AME Church
Sankofa Traveling African American Museum Exhibition
When: Fri., Feb. 15, Sat., Feb. 16 and Sun., Feb. 17
Ralph Mark Gilbert Civil Rights Museum
460 Martin Luther King Jr Blvd.
George Washington Carver and Friends
When: Fri., Feb. 15, 4 p.m. Frank Callen Boys & Girls Club
510 E. Charlton Street, Savannah Area
Sons of Mystro
When: Fri., Feb. 15, 7:30 p.m. Price: Free Sons of Mystro are classically trained violinists who use their instruments to interpret reggae, classics, American pop songs, and their own creations accompanied by beats, a DJ and a guitarist.
Armstrong Campus, Georgia Southern University
11935 Abercorn St.
When: Sat., Feb. 16, 7 p.m. Presented and conducted by Savannah State University's Obsidian Dance Repertory.
Kennedy Fine Arts Building, Savannah State University
3219 College St.
Artists Table and Chair Talk
When: Sun., Feb. 17, 3 p.m. Richard Law, Karla Marriott and Tyriq Maxwell will discuss "The Current Political Environment and Its Impact on Artistic Expression."
113 E. Montgomery Cross Rd
I Shall Not Be Moved
When: Sun., Feb. 17, 5:30 p.m. Master storyteller Lillian Grant-Baptist will portray how storytelling, music and folklore have been used as tools of resistance and reconciliation throughout African American history.
Kingdom Life Christian Fellowship
425 W. Montgomery Cross Rd.
In Tune: The Ben Tucker Story
When: Mon., Feb. 18, 6:30 p.m. Price: Free
The story of the life of legendary jazz icon and community leader Ben Tucker and the history of jazz in Savannah.
502 E. Harris St
A Dream Embraced
When: Thu., Feb. 21, 5:30 p.m. A celebration of the dreams, voices and poetry from the Harlem Renaissance. Featuring Lillian Grant-Baptist and the Young Men of Honor.
900 East Bolton St.
Historical Marker Dedication
When: Fri., Feb. 22, 10:30 a.m. Preserving the legacy of African-Americans who settled along the White Bluff and Coffee Bluff public waterways.
Crusader Community Center
81 Coffee Bluff Villa Road.