It was a trip down memory lane for attendees at “Let’s Talk! The International Day of Drumming and Healing” held Wednesday night at The Arts and Science Center for Southeast Arkansas.
The event brought residents together to celebrate 400 years of African American history on Juneteenth.
“We tried to focus on what Pine Bluff has done within those 400 years,” said Debra Ann Morris. “So, my contribution was what my family’s involvement was. So, I did a monologue, which tells the history of how the slaves merged in with the Indians here and how we survived…”
Dressed from head to toe in African attire, Morris belted out a hymn as she graced the stage. As she recounted her family’s lineage, the audience sat intrigued.
“I wanted to let everyone know my ancestry and I named all the people from the slave, which was Martha Black, and then she had a child named Classy Black and then she married the Indian Chief Rainey and they had a son named Robert Rainey and Rosa Rainey was his wife and they had seven children,” Morris said.
“The fourth child was my grandmother, which was Myrtle Morris and then she had one child, which was my mother Loretta Morris and my mother had two children -- me and my brother – Daryl, and we had our children. He had one and I had one.”
Dancing to the tune of Afro beats, dancers swayed to the music causing the audience to move in unison. Booths with artifacts lined the doors of The Arts and Science Center as attendees stopped at each one to get a glimpse of a moment in time.
“The Arts and Science Center’s mission is to serve as a cultural crossroad for our community and we do that by engaging, educating, and entertaining through the arts and sciences,” said Rachel Miller, The Arts and Science Center for Southeast Arkansas executive director. “The sciences also include the human sciences, humanities. And we feel that as a cultural anchor for downtown Pine Bluff and since we’ve been here for 50 years that we want to make sure that we participate in our community’s history, in our community’s cultural heritage and celebration of that.”
In May 2017, the House passed H.R. 1242 establishing the 400 Years of African-American History Commission per Congress’ website. The bill’s purpose was to “develop and carry out activities throughout the United States to commemorate the 400th anniversary of the arrival of Africans in the English colonies at Point Comfort, VA. In 1619.”
“It’s remembering where we came from and we need not to be ashamed of it,” Morris said. “Some people want us to be ashamed of slavery. But, in reality, it’s about how we have overcome it and how we are healing from it. Hopefully, we can let our people know to love where we come from, so we won’t have to be killing one another, but staying together as one and be proud of who we are.”
For the first time in Arkansas on Juneteenth, a bell toned from Pine Bluff to begin African American History events nationally and globally called, “Let’s Talk: The International Day of Drumming and Healing.”
The Pine Bluff event was in conjunction with the mission of the 400 Years of African American History Commission at Washington, D.C., according to a news release.
Gov. Asa Hutchinson recently sent a letter of appreciation to the Elm Grove Baptist Church for sharing the commission’s vision with Arkansans. Little Rock Mayor Frank Scott Jr. presented a proclamation and Pine Bluff Mayor Shirley Washington will soon issue a proclamation as well, according to the release.
“We give thanks to the 400 Years of African American History Commission for their support and for selecting the Historic Elm Grove Baptist as Arkansas' host organization to launch this day,” said Jesse Turner, pastor of Elm Grove Baptist Church. “Thanks to the Pine Bluff Police Department for their presence.
“I was blessed by the Almighty God to have such a group of dynamic thinkers to work with, they are wonderful to work with. Thanks again to you and the 400 Commission.”
Juneteenth is the oldest nationally celebrated commemoration of the ending of slavery in the United States. Dating back to 1865, it was on June 19 that the Union soldiers, led by Major General Gordon Granger, landed at Galveston, Texas, with news that the war had ended and that the enslaved were now free.