Okra festival has reunion air
There were no corporate sponsors and no shiny vending wagons at Lowndes County's Okra Festival this past weekend. As a matter of fact, the festival had more of an air of a family reunion or a neighborhood block party - if they have those things in the middle of the country – than a festival.
Lowndes is the forgotten county between Selma and Montgomery, scene of the 1965 Voting Rights March. It is also where Viola Luzzo and Jonathon Daniels, civil rights workers, were slain in the spring and summer of 1965 following that march.
Barbara Evans, also known as Annie Mae, and her neighbor, the late Alice Stewart, started the Okra Festival five years ago. Annie Mae is white; Alice was black. Their efforts to promote their community and its rich civil rights history have generated media attention from throughout the state and a place on the state arts council's annual calendar of events.
A few people thought we were crazy when we said we wanted to drive up for this event. We knew we were in for a treat when we read the festival rules on a hand-lettered sign and posted on the front porch of Annie Mae's Place:
Annie Mae's home and her small art gallery next door are the focal points of the Okra Festival. Annie Mae had rows of folding chairs lined up in her front yard, and we assumed the entertainment scheduled for later in the day would perform there. Blues musician Sonny Boy King and renowned storyteller Kathryn Tucker Windham of Selma were slated to perform. Mrs. Windham was perusing the arts and crafts early in the event, which began at high noon.
As with any good Southern celebration, the focus at the noon hour was on food. The food court was in the front yard of the art gallery. Fried catfish, ribs, fried okra, collard greens, cornbread and gumbo were plentiful. We missed Ms. Lexanna's sweet potato pies, but John Graham did talk a vendor out of some sausage he had grilled for himself.
Vendors set up in the back yard, and in the front yards of neighbors' homes. Parking was in the street or a vacant lot down the way.
Her description is apt. In a world often sharply divided by race, creed or religion, it was nice to discover a place where people celebrate their differences and their sameness, and have fun sharing their heritage with the outside world.
Gerlach is publisher of The Standard. She can be reached by e-mail at michele.gerlach@