African-American Heritage Day celebrated in East New Market

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Dorchester Banner/Susan M. Bautz
Singing “We Shall Overcome” to close the 2015 Heritage Day program were from left, William Jarmon, Pastor Ashley Jones, and Heritage Committee members, President Herschel Johnson, Vice President Mary Dennard-Turner, Royce Sampson, Secretary Doretha Abraham, and Lametha Elbert. It was a moment to savor. Holding hands, everyone in the church joined in for a final, poignant ending to this year’s celebration.

EAST NEW MARKET — It is not often that a 2 ½ hour program flies by without restlessly tapping feet. But, the 14th annual African American Heritage Day Celebration at Faith Community United Methodist Church in East New Market was just such an event. On Oct. 3 attendees sat in rapt attention as moderator William Jarmon moved through the occasion with flair, humor, and reverence to honor Heritage Day founder Marva Sampson and in memory of historian John Creighton.

A special treat was program opener Waugh United Methodist Church Gospel Choir accompanied by pianist Shirley Stanley whose powerful voice added to the choir’s selection. The Rev. Ashley Jones, pastor of Faith Community welcomed guests to the event. East New Market Vice Mayor David Tolley followed as he reflected that “we all have a beginning . . . let us all remember where we came from, where we are, and who made it possible.”

Former pastor the Rev. Jonathan Whitney spoke with fervor and passion to the group about the importance of discovering where we come from. He noted how important his own search to find his roots has been.

Doretha Abraham asked the group to remember “our deceased forefathers and those who paved the way to help get us here” and thanked Ms. Sampson as one who “paved the way” for the past 13 years and now has handed the baton to Heritage Day committee President Herschel Johnson. He said the theme of the year’s event was “we’ve come this far by faith.” Mr. Johnson explained, “Marva has said this all the years we’ve had this program. I don’t know if I can fill her shoes but I’m going to try to” as he presented the Heritage Award for service to the community to the honoree.

East New Market Mayor Carolyn Cline knew Ms. Sampson here before her election to the Town Council. When the Depot area was being annexed into East New Market, Ms. Sampson was selected to offer thoughts and ideas. “She walked into a meeting with good ideas and a great deal of dignity. That was my very first impression of her.”

A retired teacher, Ms. Cline offered six “report cards” describing Ms. Sampson. “Works well with others; has excellent communication skills; sets realistic goals; is independent; highly motivated; is an exceptional role model. We often use the word ‘lady’ to mean any female over the age of 13 until their 90s. If you want to know what a lady is, look at this woman: Marva Sampson is the embodiment of the word ‘lady.’ I am proud to be her friend and colleague.”

Cambridge Mayor Victoria Jackson-Stanley spoke of her personal relationship with her cousin Ms. Marva, calling her “that quiet storm” who “doesn’t have a whole to say but when she speaks, she always means what she says and says what she means.” The Mayor described Ms. Sampson as outspoken yet kind; devoted and faithful.

State Sen. Addie Eckardt presented proclamations from the Maryland General Assembly, the State Senate, and the senator herself. She praised Ms. Sampson’s vision that “God laid on her heart and mind.” Dorchester County Councilman Rick Price welcomed the group to what he considers “one of the most wonderful programs in North Dorchester.” He offered a commendation on behalf of the County Council to the Heritage Committee and the Town of East New Market; and a thank you to Ms. Sampson for her leadership and devotion.

Guest speaker Dr. Clara Small, nationally-known author and a Harriet Tubman Lifetime Achievement Award winner, is currently researching the history of African Americans on the Eastern Shore. She serves on the Governor’s Commission to Coordinate the Study, Commemoration, and Impact of the History and Legacy of Slavery in Maryland.

Dr. Small recounted the histories of the renowned Harriet Tubman and that of Samuel Green, born an African-American slave around 1802, freedman, and minister. Arrested and jailed in 1857 for having a copy of Harriet Beecher Stowe’s book, “Uncle Tom’s Cabin,” he returned to Dorchester County after his release. He was an active member of the Delaware Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church until his death in 1877. “Our next generation must realize that we are standing on the shoulders of our forefathers or foremothers. The abiding faith of our ancestors has carried us this far.”

A charming break in the program featured liturgical praise dancer Atear Frock. Her grace, intensity, and interpretation were exceptional.

The heartfelt tribute to John Creighton by Mr. Jarmon reflected his close personal relationship with the historian. The tribute was a way to remember what the late Mr. Creighton did for Dorchester County, in moving Harriet Tubman’s unique role in helping slaves escape to the forefront of local history.

Mr. Johnson said he and the committee praised Mr. Creighton “for his support and leadership which helped us tell our stories with accuracy the past years.”

Ms. Sampson was moved by the depth of feeling expressed by everyone there. She said, “This is the day that the Lord has made, rejoice and be glad in it.” She is glad for many reasons. First and foremost she says “the Lord loves me.” She noted God’s healing power in her life and in the lives of people who can just let go of their problems and let God solve them. She added, “I didn’t expect all this today and I really appreciate it from the bottom of my heart.”

Susan Bautz is a freelance writer for the Dorchester Banner.

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