The Okra Festival began as a small community celebration in the year 2000 in Burkville, Alabama.Neighbors decided to entertain each other in the heat of the summer with food, art and music.The only thing that survived that hot summer was okra, and the Okra Festival was born.Each year the Okra Festival has grown and bloomed and is now named one of the top 10 attractions in Alabama for the month of August, 2008.
The Okra Festival began to attract artists and people from all over Alabama, and international poster artist Amos Paul Kennedy began his Okra Festival Poster series in 2002.Now Okra Festival posters are in the Smithsonian and in Europe as well as all over the United States.
Although the Okra Festival began as a celebration of the African American community, it soon became unique in its ability to attract people of all races, who interact with love and friendship and that is one of the most remarkable qualities of the Okra Festival.Many festival-goers describe it as "a big family party", and people return year after year.
The Okra Festival has brought art to Lowndes County.Residents sell their home made quilts, preserves, artwork and food.Non-profits sell food for their organizations.Local authors sell books.People make and sell jewelry.Farmers grow and sell fresh fruit and vegetables.
The Lowndes County Commission has agreed to place a sign at the end of Frederick Douglass Road that says, "Burkville, Home of the Okra Festival".The Alabama Agriculture Commissioner will attend, as he has in the past.
Goals:The goalsof the Okra Festival are:
Promote all disciplines of arts in the Lowndes County community;
Create a positive awareness of the rural Black community
Contribute to local economic development through tourism;
Expose participants to other cultural and historic aspects of Lowndes County (Interpretive Center, Daniels & Liuzzo markers)
Promote diversity and innerconnectiveness among all our people.
Who will we work with?We work with everybody!Nonprofits, churches, businesses and local government. Everybody pitches in when it comes to the Okra Festival!Members of REACH and Lowndes Citizens United for Action always lend us their chairs and help with set-up, clean-up and tasks.
Community Impact:Because the Okra Festival crosses racial and class lines, it has an impact on the whole community.Not only do people participate as vendors and participants, it gives us a chance in Lowndes County to brag about our community.For instance, "Black" Burkville was a little known neighborhood; indeed Alabama lists Burkville as being close to the Alabama River.Now we have a road sign, and many more people are aware of Lowndes County, its history and its talents because of the Okra Festival.This has made our County Commission pave our roads (4 roads have been paved in the Burkville community since the inception of the Festival; more than any other area in Lowndes County), and has made residents much more prideful of the look of their community.Everybody spruces up before the Okra Festival! Plus, People have been inspired to make art.Janice Lambert is now an expert quilt artist and she sells her quilts at the festival.We have local folks who make jewelry now, inspired by the Festival. Activities:We raise money for the Okra Festival for many reasons.First, we could never afford to pay artists, such as bluesman Sonny Boy King and Amos Paul Kennedy for their magnificent entertainment.We took what we have:(artistic talent, cooking skills, sewing skills, a little art gallery, people who will help) and made what we needed:An event that would draw people to our Black Belt in a really positive way.We took the humble okra, the only thing that survived the summer heat, and made it into a festival that gets rave reviews from everyone that attends.We took these things and helped economic development and inspired our local government to take part. Key staff:Barbara Evans is the project manager, and she has volunteers from all over Lowndes County.Barbara is always assisted by members of REACH and Lowndes Citizens United for Action.Everyone is a volunteer; nobody gets paid, except for expenses.The Okra Festival could not take place without these volunteers; they are the backbone of the event. Note:We want to increase the number of business fund sources, but there are few businesses in the Burkville Area.We believe that will change as Highway 80 builds.