The Soul of 2nd Street Festival returns this weekend, this time with a brand new component added: The History Conference, which is free and open to the public.
“We’ve always tried to keep the focus on history at the festival,” says Nick Wade, executive director of the Heart of Danville. For the first two years, Wade says, the event has featured a history tent with photo displays.
“We were noticing it wasn’t getting the attention we felt it deserved,” Wade says of the historical aspect. “For the third festival, we decided to take a different approach and create a different event.”
Participants can go to the conference and join in on going “back in the day,” hear incredible stories and other historical presentations, then come out later on Friday night and again on Saturday to enjoy music, food and other offerings to celebrate the festival.
“Lately I’ve heard that the Soul of 2nd Street is referred to as one of the best festivals in Danville,” Wade says. “People are really enjoying that we are highlighting this sector of our community, this piece of history that we’re all familiar with but some may not remember or don’t think about often.”
In 2016, organizers of the festival were presented with the Helen Dedman Excellence in Preservation Advocacy Award in Frankfort, a prestigious state award recognizing the efforts to bolster public awareness of the former African-American business district along Danville’s Second Street. The district became defunct in the 1970s, when Urban Renewal razed many of the buildings.
Recognized was the Heart of Danville, the Danville-Boyle County African-American Historical Society and the Boyle County Public Library for combined efforts to increase awareness of the former businesses, as well as the social and religious activities in the area, known as the heart of the city’s African-American culture at that time. The Heart was recognized for its role in collecting oral histories, providing documentation of life along Second Street and publishing a brochure that won Best History Publication from the Kentucky Historical society in 2014.
Going ‘back in the day’
The History Conference hits Boyle County Public Library 1-4 p.m. Friday. The conference will have eight different presentations to help transport participants back in time:
• An introduction by Michael Hughes, one of the original founders of the festival who is responsible for collecting and cataloging thousands of photographs from the time period.
• The Boy Scouts presenting “2nd Street and Social Change” by Steve Ellis, staff member of the Boyle County Public Library and local Boy Scout history expert, will be speaking on the development of the African American Boy Scout troops in Danville. Based in the churches, Boy Scouts were an important part of the Second Street area community.
• “McDowell House 1880-1950,” by Mary Girard, assistant reference librarian for the library. Girard will be speaking on the historical uses of the McDowell House and Apothecary. Over the years it housed a barber shop, restaurant, pool hall and boarding house; businesses all owned and operated by African-Americans.
• “369th Harlem Hellfighers” by Mike Denis, president of the Boyle County Genealogical and Historical Society. Denis will speak about African-American veterans from World War I, specifically the 369th Harlem Hellfighters, the first African-American regiment to serve with the American Expeditionary Forces. Although based out of New York, several Boyle County men served in the regiment.
• “Papa Skeets” by Charles Grey, a local historian who will discuss John Henry Brown. Better known as Papa Skeets, he was a second street figure who had served in World War I.
• “Sleettown” by Mary Sleet and Lyda Sleet Smalley. Sleet and Smalley will talk about the African-American community developed after the Civil War on 96 acres near Perryville.
• “Progress” by Dr. Rodmon King (no further information was available yet on this presentation).
• Keynote Speaker Dr. Betty Sue Griffin will also be featured during the conference, a native of Danville who began her teaching career at First Baptist at the age of 12, serving as the church’s youngest Sunday school teacher. Griffin earned degrees from Fisk University and Oregon State University, as well as completing postdoctoral studies at Harvard, Wharton and The University of Pennsylvania, the University of Texas at Austin and Stanford University. She is described as a highly sought religious, corporate and civic motivational speaker and has addressed audiences throughout the country, as well as various workshops. She credits her experience in Danville as the foundation for her spiritual enlightenment, career choice and speaking abilities.
Wade says although the historical aspect of the festival has been given its own venue this year with the conference at the library, the popular displays of photos will still be on-hand at the festival at the History of 2nd Street display at Grayson’s Tavern.
“We’re also upping the ante on the music, too,” Wade says, referring to the rest of the weekend.
The Party in the Park hits 5:30-10 p.m. Friday at Constitution Square Park.
Sounding Joy Women’s Choir, Blue Groove Jazz and DJ Michael Fly will fill the air with tunes, plus Brothers’ BBQ will have food offerings for sale. Gabriella Campos, Miss Boyle County 2017 will be the special guest.
The Main Event Saturday will be noon-10 p.m. at the park, and will include the music of: The Harris Brothers, St. James Choir, Mike Evces, Krystal Napier Burdette, Victoria Troxler, First Baptist Male Chorus, Triple Vision, Southern Sons of Memphis, the Soul Review Band and Charlie Brown “Tribute to the Coasters.”
Many of the musical acts will be gospel in nature, others are more soul-oriented, Wade says. “But the gospel music has always been a huge hit and people really enjoy it. It’s uplifting.”
The special guest Saturday will be comedian Joe Deuce.
A family tent will be offered noon-6 p.m. Saturday, with games and crafts for the whole crew.
Also for the first time this year, the festival will feature beer sales during the weekend event.
SO YOU KNOW
• The Soul of Second Street Festival will be held Friday and Saturday, Aug. 11-12, honoring the African-American Business District that once thrived in the area that is now Constitution Square Historic Site. The event will begin with a free history conference from 1-4 p.m. Friday at the Boyle County Public Library. At 5:30 p.m., the festival will move to Constitution Square, until 10 p.m.; on Saturday, the festival will be at the historic site again from noon to 10 p.m., featuring various musical acts throughout the day and night.
• Also included during the festival will be the renaming of John W. Bate Middle School at 11 a.m. Saturday, which will be followed by a Celebration Walk to Second Street after the ceremony. A family tent will be offered noon-6 p.m. Saturday, with games and crafts for the whole crew. Also, from noon-5 p.m. Saturday, “Sharing the African-American Experience,” a collaborative project between Danville-Boyle County African-American Historical Society and Centre College, will be at Grayson’s Tavern. The public is invited to bring any historical photos for scanning and inclusion into the project’s local image database.