By Gina Malone
One of Asheville’s most historic neighborhoods welcomes all for a third year to the East End Valley Street Community Heritage Festival beginning Friday, August 23, and continuing through Sunday, August 25, at Martin Luther King Jr. Park. Highlights include a parade with a guest performance by the Carver High School marching band from Winston-Salem, a vintage car show, food vendors and trucks, arts and crafts, live music and a children’s area.
Sponsored by the East End/ Valley Street Neighborhood Association (EVNA), the event has grown exponentially from its 2017 inaugural event. “We started out small and thought we would have a little festival for the neighbors,” says EVNA president Renee White. That first festival drew about 100 people, but last year about 800 attended. “The word is really out,” White says, and this year she and other organizers expect even larger crowds.
What White calls a “really nice, peaceful festival,” alcohol-free and family-friendly, aims to reflect the changes that have come to the neighborhood through the years. “The main purpose is to bring East End residents, old and new, together,” she says. This year’s theme is Unity in Community. In addition, as with the last two festivals, she expects to see many former residents who now live elsewhere return for the celebration. An East End native herself, White says, “I’ve gone full circle in this neighborhood.” Her brother Richard J. White, III, recently named assistant city manager for the City of Asheville, will be one of those returning to attend the festival.
The neighborhood was once the hub of African-American life in downtown Asheville, with homes connected to The Block (Eagle and Market streets) and Valley Street, which with the city’s renewal efforts in the 1970s, became today’s Charlotte Street. With these changes, a significant section of the neighborhood, including many African American- owned businesses, was lost forever. Past sponsors of the festival have included the City of Asheville, Buncombe County and the Asheville Tourists. This year, the youth program at Stephens-Lee Recreation Center will help set up the children’s area and design t-shirts to sell at the festival. The children’s area will include storytelling, LEAF’s Easel Rider, a bounce house, balloon creations, face painting and arts and crafts activities. Hours for the festival are Friday, 6–9 p.m.; Saturday, 10 a.m. to 9 p.m.; and Sunday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. The parade and car show begin on Saturday at 11 a.m. A Sunday worship service with gospel music by local choirs and gospel artists will be held at St. James AME Church on Sunday at 10 a.m.