Authored by anon in “In the Shadow of the Church: Black Study in the Town of Davidson“
last updated 02.09.2021
As the College’s narrative is invested in pretending that no-one ever lived on the land along Griffith Street, Black people in West Davidson have rejected that narrative by, in the words of Christina Sharpe, “insisting life into the wake,” (2016, pg. ). During the 1990s, the African-American Coalition of Davidson held an annual “WestFest,” a celebration of West Davidson. The event was held in Roosevelt Wilson Park. According to a program distributed by event organizers, the festivities consisted of various performances on a stage set up near the playground, some of which were religious –such as gospel music and an opening/closing prayer– while others were secular, such as a special address from the mayor and a step show (Davidson AAC, 1997). In one of the images, held by the Shared Stories Collection at the College Archives and Special Collections website, a group of Black people sing into microphones on a stage, as a crowd watches. The event looks extremely well-attended, with most seats filled and children and younger people standing in the back. There are also people wearing different types of clothing– specifically older people in more formal or church attire, with younger family members wearing shorts, t-shirts and tank tops. Behind the seating area are paper signs hanging on string between trees, which separate the photographer from the people being photographed.
The fact that the line is blocking the performer’s faces leads me to believe that this photo may not have been taken by a professional photojournalist, but by a community member who was present at the festivities and wanted to capture the event as a whole, instead of just the performers. The metadata of this photo on the Archives website lists its filename as “Reeves15,” which I believe refers to Reeves Temple AME Zion Church, located about a block away from Roosevelt Wilson Park. This photograph and other community documents pertaining to WestFest point to the critical importance of Black churches as sites of community organizing, knowledge protection, and political power in the South. Not only did churches like Reeves Temple AME hold physical documents such as photographs and programs, but they also hold community knowledge, as spaces where Black people gather across generations (Davidson AAC, 1997).
Holding an event like WestFest in Roosevelt Wilson Park in the 1990s operated on several levels. First, on a practical level, it built coalitional connections between churches, religious groups, local businesses, secular organizations, and even government offices such as Mecklenburg County Parks and Recreation, with the intended goal of providing spiritual and material resources for Black people. Secondly, it provided a space to gather and organize politically; the 1997 Westfest called for “unity in the community” and featured a speech from Rev. James Barnette, a pastor engaged in gun violence prevention work (Davidson AAC, 1997). Lastly, on a discursive level, gathering in Roosevelt Wilson Park articulates belonging, and insists upon recognition of the Black history of the space.
I think that the mode of celebration, and the affect of joy is extremely important here. In Black Feminism Reimagined, Jennifer Nash (2019, pg. 3) discussed the affect of defensiveness that, in her scholarly opinion, characterizes some Black feminists’ relationship to intersectionality, and proposes an affect of care in its place. The WestFest brochure indicates that Black churches were places where Black women held considerable cultural and political power: both the Master of Ceremony (Jackie Torrence) and the minister giving the Invocation (Rev. Claire Hurst of Reeves Temple) were Black women (Davidson AAC, 1997). Through forms of labor traditionally devalued as “women’s work,” organizers like Rev. Hurst and Jackie Torrence care for their community in a radical and critical way: by bringing families together, organizing food, music, and celebration, and insisting upon loving each other out loud. In the same way that Evelyn Carr’s full presence as a Black person in her home acted against erasure, the presence and fullness of Black people and Black joy in Roosevelt Wilson Park are powerful.