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13th annual African American Downtown Festival stokes memories of black business leaders in Ann Arbor

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by David Jesse
The Ann Arbor News

Marcus Washington stood in the middle of North Fourth Avenue in downtown Ann Arbor on Saturday shortly after noon, trying to make up his mind.

Ribs or fried fish for lunch?

He admitted to being tempted by the smoke from the barbecue grill that he could smell from “a couple of blocks away.”

On the other hand, he said, it had been a while since he had some fried fish.

His choice?

In the end, after a several minutes of consideration, it came down to the fish.

“It’s easier to eat it while I’m walking around,” the Superior Township resident said. “Maybe I’ll come back and have ribs tonight.”

Washington was among hundreds of people who came to the 13th annual African American Downtown Festival in Ann Arbor on Saturday. It ran from early morning to late evening.

The festival’s epicenter was at the intersection of Ann Street and North Fourth Avenue. Historically, that area housed many black-owned and operated businesses, largely from the 1940s to the 1970s.

The festival was founded by Lucille Hall Porter, who was also the founder and director of the Community Leaning Post, a nonprofit organization that helped disadvantaged youth and families. The festival was organized to help remember the contributions of those black business leaders.

This year’s festival is the first since Porter died last September and organizers held a moment of silence to honor her.

At times Saturday, the festival felt like a neighborhood block party, with friends exchanging hugs and handshakes with people they bumped into while walking along the streets.

Portions of both Ann Street and North Fourth Avenue were shut down for the festival, which drew steady crowds during the course of the day, despite sometimes ominous-looking clouds. A light sprinkle of rain around 1 p.m. did little to dampen spirits along the street.

Vendors set up booths all along the streets, showcasing various works of art and photography, along with selling jewelry and T-shirts.

Several community groups also set up booths.

One of the most popular stops for the crowds was a group of tables promoting Barack Obama’s bid for president. Obama, a Democrat, is the first black man to be the presumptive nominee for a major party in a presidential race.

“This a good thing,” said Walt English of Ann Arbor. “It’s a historic occurrence. I’m very excited.”

Throughout the day, various groups performed for the crowd. When a group wasn’t playing, a DJ kept a steady stream of music moving throughout the crowd.

New this year to the festival was the “Ultimate Kidz Korner.” It featured several large inflatable games, including a large slide and a bounce house.

That area drew the attention of Tina Cole, 7, of Ann Arbor and her mom, Amanda.

“She doesn’t want to look at anything else,” Amanda said. “I think I’ll have to bribe her with some lemonade in a few minutes. I’m interested in seeing what else is here.”


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