Communities Heritage/History Lifestyle

Community Heritage Festival Honors the Past, Embraces the Present, Looks to the Future

By Owen Hahn

East End/Valley Street invites everyone to attend its fifth annual Community Heritage Festival and celebrate the history of Asheville’s oldest African American neighborhood. The festival—hosting live bands, food trucks, vendors, a children’s area and a parade—will be held on Saturday, August 26, from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. in Martin Luther King Jr. Park. The children’s area will be open from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.

About 100 people came to the festival’s first gathering in 2017, a far cry from last year’s success, with well over 1,500 people attending. The president of the East End/Valley Street Neighborhood Association, Renée White, expects an even bigger turnout this year. The bands performing at the festival include Uptown Swagga from Charlotte and Asheville funk outfit the Free Flow Band.

Among the attendees at this year’s festival will be Lottie Mae Poole, East End’s oldest native resident, who will be turning 100 years old. “She is the heritage of East End,” says White. “We will be looking at her not only for the past but for the future. She’s seen a lot, she’s heard a lot, she’s done a lot, she’s got history that we will never have, because of her age.”

Renée White

The theme for this year is “heritage,” which encompasses the past, present and future. East End has faced extreme changes over the decades, many times for the worse. Asheville’s urban renewal program in the 1970s tore apart much of the neighborhood, destroying its businesses and relocating its residents. In recent years, gentrification has become a threat to the continued prosperity of native East Enders.

“The past helps you to create what happens in the future,” says White. “You’re hoping that when you look toward the future, that some things can be rectified, unified and put together. I do what I do because I would like for the generation after me and the generation after that generation to know what the history of the neighborhood was and then look at moving toward the future in hopes that we will continue to grow.”

White remembers growing up in East End as being a part of one big family. After urban renewal forced many residents to leave their homes, the close-knit community of her childhood drifted apart. The Community Heritage Festival now helps to restore the family dynamic to the neighborhood. “The festival brings back East Enders who’ve moved away and brings together the ones who’ve remained in the neighborhood,” says White. “It gives everybody a chance to bond again and to be able to create an environment that’s family-oriented.”

All are encouraged to come to the Festival to learn about the rich heritage of East End, meet new people and enjoy the food and music. “We want everybody to participate, we want everybody to come out and enjoy,” says White. “Everybody’s welcome!”

To find out more, visit Martin Luther King Jr. Park is located at 50 Martin Luther King Jr. Drive in Asheville. Owen Hahn, a summer intern with The Laurel, is a student at UNCA and a music enthusiast.

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