400 Years of History being celebrated in 2019

Published 5:00 am Saturday, April 27, 2019

On Oct. 19, in LaGrange, there will be a commemorative celebration of the accomplishments of African Americans in the 400 years since the first slaves were brought to America.

The event is being organized by local groups.

“2019 marks 400 years since the first slave ships came to America, and I was like, ‘We’ve got to do something,’” said Yvonne Lopez, who is helping organize the event. “We can’t allow for this milestone to pass and not recognize it. A lot of African Americans’ contributions to America are not in school books. A lot of the stories that happened within this 400 years — some of them are gone forever.”

The event will include a festival in downtown LaGrange, workshops, a gala, an essay contest and an international gospel festival, all following that theme.

“This is a movement established by LaGrange, Troup County, Central West Georgia to commemorate struggles and the influences made by African Americans over the past 400 years,” said Bobbie Hart, co-founder of Troup Together.

Hart said the project began with Austin Callaway, and it continues with a goal of forgiveness and reconciliation.

“Sept. 8 was the day that Austin Callaway was lynched in 1940, and when we did the pilgrimage in 2015, one of the main things we did is we prayed a prayer of forgiveness,” Hart said. “We asked for forgiveness for the past and moving forward.”

Part of “400 Years: The Journey” will be an essay contest where high school students write on events that occurred during the 400 years since the first slave ship arrived in America. Lopez said that the high schools have already received information on the contest, and monetary prizes will be given out for the best essays. First prize will be $1,000. Second place will receive $500, and third place will receive $250.

The winners will be announced at the gala, which is attached to the event. Nichole Spafford, an event organizer, said that the gala will include a silent auction with mobile enabled bidding.

“It is a celebration, a coming together, bridge building, healing, love because that is what it is really about,” Lopez said. “It is going to be highlighting our contributions and our working together as a community to build this country.”

Organizers said the event will also include workshops at the Callaway Conference Center.

“We are going to do these workshops over at the college, and we are really excited about them,” said Lynn Norris, one of the organizers. “One of them is going to be improving law enforcement’s relationship with diverse communities, and we are working with the police department on that. [Other workshops will include,] inter-generational trauma with Kelly Veal and Zsa Zsa Heard, tracing our heritage and family lineage with a local author… the Austin Callaway apology, and we will have Mrs. Annie Greene’s art from the Jim Crowe era as an exhibit. It will be basically walking through the history of that era.”

Finally, the weekend celebration will conclude with gospel songs from around the world.

“No great celebration could be complete without praise and worship,” said Dr. Van Shrives, the pastor at Mt. Zion Baptist Church. “On Sunday, Oct. 20 at 3 o’clock in the square, we are having an international gospel festival.”

Shrives said the festival would include gospel music from Africa, the Caribbean, the Geechee Gullah, the Cherokee nation, Latin America, Europe and the African American community. Several LaGrange City Council members are expected to take part in the gospel festival.