At Six Years, Legacy Day is Established as a Special Late Summer Celebration

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Legacy Day celebrates its sixth year. It has established itself as a late-summer event that consistently fulfills its dual missions of celebrating the rich cultural heritage of African Americans in Kent County and creating opportunities for all Kent Countians to recognize their shared history and have a good time as they do. 

The Legacy Day 2019 program focuses on Historic African American Churches of Kent County. So far we have enjoyed historian Bill Leary’s presentation on historic churches delivered to a standing-room crowd at the Kent County Historical Society’s Bordley History Center.  

This past Saturday, four a cappella gospel ensembles drawn from vocalists representing five churches in Kent County performed to a full house at Bethel A.M.E. Church, a historic African American church formed in 1872 that moved to its current location in 1910. The church was a perfect setting for the artists to deliver a powerful affirmation of the spiritual power of songs of praise and hope.  

One attendee remarked that if you didn’t come full of the Holy Spirit, you definitely were full of the Holy Spirit when you left. 

Formed around the pillars of Community, History and Culture, the inaugural Legacy Day in August 2014 celebrated the contributions of Charlie Graves, owner of The Uptown Club at the corner of Calvert St. and College Avenue and hands-down the Number One promoter of R&B and Jazz on the Eastern Shore and on some nights on the East Coast during the 1950s-60s. The Uptown Club remained a night club in Chestertown until Graves retired and the Uptown Club closed in 1988.  

As August 16, 2014, arrived, present in the background was the civil unrest in Ferguson, Missouri after a white police officer had shot and killed an unarmed African American man.  It was caught on video that went viral and led to outrage by local citizens, including many African Americans, who were frustrated and angry after years of predatory abuses by the white-dominated local judiciary and police force.

The band “Soulfied Village”  provided live music for dancing in the street at the 2017 Legacy Day  —  photo by Jane Jewell

But despite the nation-wide tension, the inaugural Legacy Day arrived with great weather and a tremendously positive vibe in the community. The 200-block of High Street was transformed into a street party setting.  The first Legacy Day emerged as a landmark event in Kent County history: a well-attended public event, maybe the largest primarily local assembly in Chestertown’s history that embraced the contributions of African Americans, stories often never publicly shared.  Each succeeding Legacy Day has built on that, adding activities such as the genealogy workshops and gospel concerts.  New in 2019 is an art exhibit at the RiverArts Education Center featuring local African-American artists.

Reverand Ellsworth Tolliver, who has been the Master of Ceremonies for several Legacy Days  — Photo by Jane Jewell

Legacy Day succeeds because it is community-driven by its team of volunteers, staffed by many hardworking volunteers and supported by local institutions.  It started as a project of a Historical Society subcommittee that grew from discussions at the Diversity Dialog Group. It has found a place to grow at Sumner Hall, where scholarship and education about Kent County’s African Americans is the mission. With the help of the Historical Society and the Garfield Center for the Performing Arts, Sumner Hall and the Legacy Day committee have built an extended program of community events, lectures, and workshops for children and adults, and the performing arts including a month-long exhibit on historic African-American churches at the Kent County Historical Society.

Friday brings the recognition of the Legacy Day Honorees held at the Bordley History Center. Saturday’s education programming starts at 10 a.m. and continues all day. The Legacy Day Parade starts at 5 p.m. followed by the street festival in the 300-block of High Street. Learn more by visiting here.

Dancing in the street at the 2017 Legacy Day celebration – photo by Jane Jewell

Kent County Community Marching Band, Legacy Day 2017 — Photo by Peter Heck

Barbara in den Bosch and Armand Fletcher carry the Diversity Dialog Group Banner at the 2017 Legacy Day 2017 — Photo by Peter Heck

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