Today usually is a day filled with music, food, laughter, fun and togetherness. But this year in Martinsville and the surrounding area, things will look different for Juneteenth.
Celebrating the proclamation of the end of slavery in Galveston, Texas, on June 19, 1865, this day also known as Jubilee Day and Freedom Day coincidentally has fallen on the same weekend as a large gathering in Martinsville called the June German Ball.
Held along the city’s historic Fayette Street, that celebration has commemorated the area’s history while giving guests an opportunity to relive and learn about historically significant events.
The June German Ball began in 1938 as a way to celebrate the culturally rich African-American community in Martinsville but was disbanded after approximately three decades. There was a resurgence several years ago, and the June German Ball most recently took place at Albert Harris Elementary School, only steps away from Fayette Street.
The Fayette Area Historical Initiative (FAHI) held its fourth-annual “Evening of Elegance” on Friday night at the New College Institute on Baldwin Block in Martinsville.
Funds raised in the benefit will be used for additional property or renovating the FAHI African American Museum and Cultural Center at 211 W. Fayette St., officials said.
FAHI Executive Director Chauncey Adams pointed out that FAHI is staffed entirely by volunteers, and that any assistance provided to the multicultural center is crucial.
Roughly 60-75 people attended “Evening of Elegance,” a yearly fundraiser which featured dinner, music and the silent auction. Many men wore tuxedoes and many women wore gowns or other elegant attire.
In addition to local artwork , furniture items from Bassett Furniture were up for auction as part of the fundraiser.
Located in the former Imperial Savings and Loan building, the FAHI museum has a variety of exhibits and historic items spotlighting black individuals, schools and businesses, including an entire wall devoted to the Imperial Savings and Loan Association, which closed in 2010.
Many other exhibits are rotated in and out of the museum, which hosts tours of local students regularly, Adams said. Virtually everyone who attended Friday’s gala either was a FAHI volunteer or member of the group’s board of directors.
Naomi Hodge-Muse and Renwick Morrison are two of the artists who have work on display at FAHI. Hodge-Muse’s paintings are behind her on the wall at left, and Morrison’s paintings are behind him on the wall at right. The bust between them was made by Meredith Jeffress, and some paintings by Margaret Hairston are on the table.
The Fayette Area Historical Initiative soon will have a new home for its African American Museum and Cultural Center, and funds still are being raised for the effort.
FAHI recently bought the building at 211 Fayette St., according to Curtis Millner Sr., FAHI’s board chairman.
The building cost $35,000, he said. About half of that cost was paid by donations from residents and institutions.
A promissory note was used to finance the rest, and “a drive to raise those funds continues,” Millner said.
The building was constructed in 1953 and formerly housed the Imperial Savings & Loan Association, which was established in 1929, he said.
That institution “survived a historical span of 81 years before closing in 2010,” Millner said. It was the last African-American owned and operated savings and loan institution in Virginia, he added.
The Paradise Inn sign came down Tuesday, but it is not gone forever.
In fact, the building that once was an entertainment and nightlife center in Martinsville’s African-American community eventually may be restored for future generations.
“The old Paradise Inn has a rich and strong history” in that community, said Gerald Holman, interim director of the Fayette Area Historical Initiative.
Holman said city workers removed the sign from the Fayette Street building Tuesday.
The sign will be displayed at FAHI’s museum for at least a year, said Wayne Knox, city planning, zoning and housing manager. It may be restored or displayed in its current condition.
At the same time, city officials are studying the area surrounding the Paradise Inn to see if any of the property can be restored.