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Forum on African-American 400th anniversary
Monument for Bulloch County, events at Willow Hill proposed
Willow Hill Marker.jpg

The Willow Hill Heritage and Renaissance Center, near Portal, will host a community forum 9-11 a.m. Saturday to plan for local events and projects marking the National Commemoration of 400 Years of African-American History.   

A memorial to honor the contributions of enslaved and free African-Americans in Bulloch County is among the ideas to be discussed. Another is the establishment of a Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Oratorical Contest in cooperation with local schools.

Other planning will be directed toward extending the annual Willow Hill Heritage Festival, which will begin Aug. 31, through the month of September with additional activities, said Dr. Gayle Jackson, development director for the Willow Hill Center.

“We want to have a community forum because we want to, number one, inform the community, and secondly get them involved with doing some type of commemorative activity during the year … because 2019 is the 400th anniversary of the first African-Americans coming to America,” Jackson said.

The historic Willow Hill School, on the site of the original school founded by former slaves for their children in 1874, will be the location of this weekend’s forum and also of the ninth annual festival this summer. It’s at 4235 Willow Hill Road off U.S. Highway 80.

After the public forum, the Willow Hill organization is encouraging attendees and other area residents to stop by the Statesboro Convention and Visitors Bureau on South Main Street to see the exhibit on slavery, curated by Georgia Southern University public history students. Ahmauri Williams-Alford, one of the Willow Hill Heritage and Renaissance Center’s student interns, is scheduled to conduct a tour of the exhibit at 1 p.m.


Federal funding?

House Resolution 1242, signed by President Donald Trump on Jan. 8, 2018, called for a federal commission to support a commemoration of the 400th anniversary of the arrival of Africans in the English colonies. This has been dated from the landing of a group of enslaved people, or by some accounts Africans who were at first treated as indentured servants, in Virginia in 1619.Introduced by U.S Rep. Robert C. “Bobby” Scott, D-Virginia 3rd District, the bill had passed the House and Senate with wide support in 2017.Alex Hill, a field representative for U.S. Rep. Rick W. Allen, R-Georgia 12th, is scheduled to attend Saturday’s forum at Willow Hill with information on H.R. 1242, Jackson announced.The law authorizes the commission to make grants of up to $20,000 each to communities and nonprofit organizations for use in programs that assist in the national commemoration. H.R. 1242 also provides for grants to scholarly and research organizations for researching or publishing information on African-American history.But after learning about the commemoration law last fall, Willow Hill’s volunteers found very little specific information about the grants, Jackson said. The current partial government shutdown has made obtaining information from agencies such as the Department of the Interior difficult or impossible, she said. So the Willow Hill Center asked for an update from Allen’s office.“Whatever grants are going to be available – we have no idea – but what we want to do is prepare ourselves to be ready and able to get part of these monies to help tell the complete story of African-Americans in Bulloch County,” Jackson said.The Willow Hill Center has done extensive work in collecting oral histories from area residents and maintains exhibits about African-American schools and churches. A Georgia Southern graduate student is now working with the center on compiling stories about African-Americans from the Statesboro Herald and its predecessor newspapers dating back to the 1890s. 

Expanded festival

Added features proposed for the expanded Ninth Annual Willow Hill Heritage Festival include walking tours, performances, lectures and panel discussions, all commemorating African-American history in Bulloch County.“Our festival normally would start on Aug. 31 because it’s always on the Saturday before Labor Day, but we’re going to expand activities for the whole month of September,” Jackson said. 

Genealogy workshop

Another example of other local organizations helping “to tell the whole story,” is an African-American genealogy workshop, to be hosted by the Statesboro Regional Library at 5 p.m. Feb. 21, she said. Lillian Wingate, the library’s genealogy and local history coordinator, will present the workshop. Jackson said the Willow Hill Center plans to work with Wingate on some projects during 2019.


Herald reporter Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9458.

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