Celebrating Faith And Freedom Since 1814
August Quarterly has promoted Peter Spencer’s themes of community, hope, salvation, self-determination and liberation in various Wilmington locations since 1814.
The festival now begins at Peter Spencer Plaza —named for the former slave, who organized 31 churches and several schools – and for years has ended at Tubman-Garrett Riverfront Park, named for abolitionist Thomas Garrett and freedom conductor Harriet Tubman.
“Moving the festival to the park brought families together,” Lawrence “Moon” Roane, a festival chairman for more than 25 years. “It was very nice that first year and very nice every year since.”
Unfortunately, concerns about the coronavirus have led organizers to cancel three events in the park and have left aspects about other events up in the air.
The festival—Delaware’s oldest folk festival and the nation’s oldest African American festival celebrating religious freedom, freedom of speech and the right of assembly—began with Spencer.
He led a group that founded the Union Church of African Members in 1813. August Quarterly, which started the next year, “became a kind of Independence Day for Black people on the Delmarva Peninsula,” according to www.augustquarterly.org. “The Big Quarterly … has remained a time of reunion, religious revival and celebration of freedom.”
Worship Services Retained
This year’s festival begins at 10 a.m. Sunday, Aug. 23, with a service, led by the Rev. Shirlyn Henry Brown, and a wreath laying ceremony at Peter Spencer Plaza, 800 N. French St., Wilm.
Five revival services are scheduled this year—inside, outside or virtually—with plans to be updated as needed for Delaware regulations on gatherings, says Renita Roane-Brown, coordinator of festival religious activities. She says committee members are researching how to host virtual services and have also talked about hosting revivals outdoors. Currently, they are planned at 7 p.m. Aug. 24 at Ezion-Mt. Carmel Church, 800 N. Walnut St.; Aug. 25 at Bethel AME Church, 604 N. Walnut St., Aug. 26 at Cornerstone Fellowship Baptist, Church, 20 W. Lea Blvd., Aug. 27 at The Resurrection Center, 3301 N. Market St., and Aug. 28, Mother African Union Church, 812 N. Franklin St., all in Wilmington.
The festival is planned to end at 9 a.m. Aug. 30 with a service led by the Rev. Sylvester Beaman at the Chase Center on the Riverfront, 815 Justison St., Wilmington.
Those attending all services are asked to donate nonperishable food.
The annual souvenir booklet will be produced, with 2,000 copies distributed. But the closing events—Youth Day, the Gospel Explosion and the Big Quarterly, which for years have drawn crowds to Tubman-Garrett Riverfront Park—have been canceled.
“Delaware is rich in history, and you can’t have that history without August Quarterly,” Roane-Brown says, pointing out the Peter Spencer Heritage Hallway Museum at the Mother African Union Church.
Roane is a living part of that history. The 80-year-old became involved in the festival when he was 17. “Ever since I have been hooked,” he says.
— Ken Mammarella