Residents from Bulloch County and beyond will join together again for the latest iteration of the Willow Hill Heritage Festival on Saturday and Sunday at the Willow Hill Heritage and Renaissance Center near Portal.
The two-day festival will include a prayer breakfast with a keynote speaker, tours of the Willow Hill museum and a wide array of performances from gospel groups and musicians.
The Willow Hill Heritage and Renaissance Center stands at the site of the former Willow Hill School. Former slaves opened the historic school in 1874, a time when civic organizations and churches were starting schools to educate African-Americans.
Through a series of buildings and by transitioning to be part of the county school system, the Willow Hill School remained open 125 years, longer than any school in Bulloch County. The heritage center is located at 4235 Willow Hill Road.
Willow Hill alumnus and retired Air Force Col. Harry Holiday, DDS, will speak at Saturday's prayer breakfast, which begins at 9 a.m. Holiday was born in Millen to the late Sol and Bernice Holiday. They moved to Portal during Harry Holiday's youth, and he attended Willow Hill Elementary School. Holiday later attended William James High School and Portal High School, where he graduated in 1969.
Holiday served in both the U.S. Army and Air Force during his 36 years of military service, acting as a food inspector and dentist. When he was not serving in the military, he worked as a biology teacher in Springfield and with the Georgia Department of Corrections, mostly at the Georgia State Prison in Reidsville. While there, Holiday served on the prison's alternative school and library boards. He was also a member of the Rescuing African-American Youth organization, started by his wife, Minister Brenda Littles Holiday.
Harry Holiday graduated from Georgia Southern College, now Georgia Southern University, in 1976 with a degree in biology. Currently, he serves as a board member for the Georgia General Assembly of the Church of God and state financial secretary for the Georgia General Assembly. He is also a member of the Henry County NAACP, located in McDonough.
Tickets for the prayer breakfast cost $15. He also will sign copies of his memoir, "The Life and Times of Harry ‘Doc' Holiday: Don't Give Up."
Dr. Alvin Jackson, the board president and family historian for the heritage center, will give a lecture at 1 p.m. on "The Founders and Families of the Willow Hill School and Community."
Afterward, Jackson will give a tour of the center's museum exhibits, including those on Willow Hill School, William James High School and the Primitive Baptist Church.
There will be door prizes and a cake raffle at the school on Saturday, said Gayle Jackson, the development director for the heritage center.
Touch of Class Catering will serve buffet-style meals all day Sunday, starting at 1 p.m., Jackson said. Meals are $10 for those 13 and older and $5 for those younger than 13.
Sunday's Gospel Extravaganza will offer music and activities throughout the afternoon, beginning at 2:30 p.m. Performers include Carolyn Tremble, Ethel Lane, Ruthie Mae George and family, Pastor Brock Taylor, John Wiggins, Cynthia Canty, Shaute Ellis, Faye West, Willie Frank Polk, Frances McCray and family, Pastor Stanley Moore and Bethlehem Missionary Baptist Church.
Other performers include Gay's Hill Baptist Church, New Hope Baptist Church, End Time Pentecostal Church, Body of Christ Assembly Praise Ministry, Earl Donaldson, Reginald "Saxman" Jordan and the Oconee Community Mentoring Association of Dublin.
Middle and high school students from the mentoring association will be giving oratoricals, or debate-style speeches, on topics relating to the Martin Luther King Oratorical Contest.