After a two-year hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic the Annual Willow Hill Heritage Festival will return this Labor Day weekend to the Willow Hill Heritage and Renaissance Center.
On Friday and Saturday, as part of Telfair’s Museums Legacy of Slavery Initiative, there will be discussions on “Archival Silence: Closing Gaps in African History.”
On Friday, a presentation of the work of the Willow Hill Heritage and Renaissance Center in partnership with Georgia Southern Libraries in preserving local history. African American Funeral Programs are at the center of this work.
On Saturday from 9 a.m.-5 p.m., the Rev. William Parrish, Joel Johnson and Steve Taylor, who all have connections to Bulloch County, will discuss their use of DNA, genealogical research, interviews and studying funeral programs to discover untold family stories.
Taylor is a descendant of the Lester and Everett families, some of the earliest white settlers of Bulloch County. His Lester ancestor, James Lester, was a slave owner.
One of his slaves, Vilet Lester, wrote one of the few known letters, by an enslaved woman, during the era of slavery. She wrote to her former mistress in North Carolina, seeking information on her family.
The letter she wrote is in the Special Collections of the Duke University Archives.
Rev. Parrish will discuss the story of the migration of his family from Bulloch County to the African-American Community of Glendale, OH, in 1924.
Parrish authored the book, “An Underground Community: How Blacks settled the Historical Village of Glendale,” and also created a traveling exhibit on the subject.
Johnson has done both traditional and genetic research. Using Ancestry.com, Family Search, GED Match and My Heritage, he has made a connection to his former slave ancestors and former slave owner families. Through DNA, he has bridged the gap and unlocked family origins to the Willow Hill Community and Bulloch County.
Also, on Saturday from 9-10 a.m., there will be free food and activities for children in Willow Hill’s outdoor pavilion.
On Sunday, from 3-7 p.m., a Gospel Fest, hosted by Revs. Frankie and Jean Owens, will showcase performances by local artists.
The weekend event will include museum tours, food and merchandise vendors.