“Discover” activities celebrate the great names of the Delta
Eldridge Cleaver, famous Black Panther and writer, had a connection to Jefferson County. Who knew?
He was one of 19 writers and historical figures recognized as part of the Discover Our Delta celebration held Friday and Saturday in downtown Pine Bluff.
It was sponsored by the Pine Bluff Advertising and Promotion Commission.
Born Leroy Eldridge Cleaver in Wabbaseka in 1935, Cleaver was an author, political activist and an early leader of the Black Panthers. He helped found the Black House, a center devoted to black culture, and where he met Black Panther co-founders Huey P. Newton and Bobby Seale.
Police often abused innocent black people, and the Panthers took a candid stance – often carrying guns through the streets of Oakland, California.
Cleaver’s book, “Soul on Ice,” was a New York Times bestseller.
The display inspired by local history, as well as a display of books about those exhibited, were made as part of the event, said Ricky Williams, director of the Pine Bluff/Jefferson County Library System.
She was just one of the local people highlighted at the downtown main library Saturday morning as part of Discover Our Delta Celebration’s nod to local writers, said Sheri Storie, executive director of A&P.
Storie said they also featured Paul Greenberg, editorial page editor of Pine Bluff Commercial, which won a Pulitzer Prize for editorial writing in 1969, and the WPA Slave Narratives.
“Pine Bluff and Jefferson County have produced a number of award-winning authors,” Storie said.
In all, they spotlighted 19 local writers.
When asked about participating in the event, Williams replied, “I said, ‘Why not? The library is the perfect place.’ It raises awareness of the people who have impacted Jefferson County and those who have touched the nation, Williams said.
The Delta Celebration kicked off Friday night with a solo show titled “Nothing but the Truth… Confessions of a Black Female Icon,” featuring Hollywood actress and comedian Phyllis Yvonne Stickney at the Arts & Science Center for Southeast Arkansas.
In addition to television, Stickney has starred in films like “Malcolm X”, “What’s Love Got To Do With It”, “How Stella Got Her Groove Back”, and “Jungle Fever”, just to name a few- one.
Audiences seemed captivated by Stickney, said A&P executive assistant Betty Brown.
“It was a good enthusiastic crowd. … People laughed, some probably cried. … I left feeling like Phyllis was part of the family,” Brown said.
BUILDING ON JEFFERSON COUNTY’S LEGACY
The Explore Pine Bluff/A&P office has created a website designed to promote travel and highlight historic sites. In addition, the group publishes a weekly blog and develops a cultural district plan.
The weekend’s delta celebration is an important part of the group’s goal to advance “heritage tourism” in Pine Bluff and the region, Storie said.
“We tell our story. We promote the rich history and culture of the region and encourage community pride,” she said of the event.
The three Explore Pine Bluff staff came up with the idea for this event several months ago.
That was the easy part.
In addition to Storie, Explore Pine Bluff’s Jimmy Cunningham, Director of Tourism Development, and Brown collaborated on the event.
They decided to present three aspects of the culture and history of the region. In addition to writers or literature, they included music and drama.
The music was a given, Storie said.
The first – and hopefully – annual cultural celebration included a live performance by local blues legend and Grammy winner Bobby Rush and a screening of Kevin Mukherji’s documentary film, “Tail Dragger”. Tail Dragger Jones, born James Yancey Jones in Altheimer in 1940, became known for his Chicago-style blues, as well as his second-degree murder conviction of fellow blues musician, Boston Blackie.
There was also a screening of the award-winning animated film, “The Adventures of Brer Rabbit”, directed by Jefferson County resident Byron Vaughns, with voice-over performances by well-known actors Nick Cannon, Wanda Sykes, DL Hughley and Danny Glover.
“It was nominated for the Annie Award for Best Home Entertainment Production,” Storie said.
The idea for the Delta celebration began with the Dragger documentary when Mukherji contacted Cunningham about the documentary.
“Then we found out that Bobby Rush would be in town and an event started happening,” Storie said.
Getting the artists in place was the hardest part.
“It took a while to put everything together, but no one turned us down,” she said.
FIRST ANNUAL CELEBRATION
The group has decided to keep it small this year.
“We didn’t want it to be overwhelming” for the audience or for him. It was an opportunity for the organizers to get their feet wet.
The celebration was sponsored by the Pine Bluff Publicity and Promotion Commission, and all activities and performances affiliated with the event were free to the public.
Food trucks have been allowed to set up downtown.
“We did it in conjunction with the Tour De Bluff so people had a little more to do this weekend,” she said.
Tour de Bluff is a two-day cycling event, held Friday and Saturday and includes routes through the community that start at one mile up to 62 miles.
REDISCOVERING OUR HERITAGE
“Much of our history has been lost, but we hope to find it and develop it in cultural tourism,” Storie said.
There are already museums dotted throughout the city, including the Southeast Arkansas Arts and Science Center, the Railroad Museum, the Pine Bluff/Jefferon County Historical Museum, and the University Museum and University of Arkansas Cultural Center at Pine Bluff.
There are other sites of historical and cultural interest.
“The numbers tell us that these types of tourists are spending more money, staying longer and are more likely to return to the area.
“We missed that for years,” Storie said.
Cunningham reflected on the events.
“The excellence of history has been reflected in so many Jefferson County residents over the decades that we thought a celebration highlighting our significant contributions to the Delta and the world would be fun, educational and exciting,” he said. -he declares. “For too long, many of our greatest hits have been under-celebrated. Well, it’s about to end.