Sunday, May 3, 2009

COLORED FAIR ASSOCIATIONS

THE EARLY YEARS OF THE
COLORED FAIR ASSOCIATIONS
OF LAURENS COUNTY


With the turning of the 20th Century, the African-Americans of Laurens
County found themselves beginning to move up on the economic and educational ladders. Formal education was finally the norm. Thousand of families lived out on the farms. One popular event of the first decade of this century was the annual county fair. The fairs, usually held in October and early November, were designed not only to entertain, but to educate as well.

The first recorded fair was held at the Dublin City Pavilion from October 3rd through October 10th of 1905. The pavilion was located just off East Madison Street, where the City Water Department is now located. Prizes were awarded for agricultural products, home demonstration projects, and sewing. There was ball playing and horse riding each day. Music was provided by the Acme State Band of Macon.

A few days after the fair ended, R. Evans, S.H. Hunter, J.B. Wright, Ivery Clay, and L. Pinkerton of Laurens County petitioned the Superior Court to incorporate the Georgia Colored Fair Association. The objective of the corporation was "to carry on and conduct fairs throughout in Laurens and throughout the state for the purpose of exhibiting the commercial and industrial development of the Colored race along the lines of agriculture, manufacturing, mechanical, arts, and sciences, ... to enlighten, inspire, develop, and encourage said race." Of course, entertainment and the selling of merchandise was also authorized.

For the next decade, most of the fairs were held at the Harriett Holsey Industrial College in northeast Dublin. The Negro Farmer's Institute held a fair on October 20, 1915. In 1916, the 12th Congressional District Fair was held for the first time at its permanent home on Telfair Street. The site was located on Telfair Street between Troup and Joiner Streets. Rev. William Gaines and H.H. Dudley were chosen to manage the 12th District Colored Fair, which would run from November 22nd to November 25th. Rev. Gaines and Mr. Dudley invited all the people of Dublin and Laurens to come out and see the entertainment, which featured a big brass band.

In 1917, the Central Colored People's Fair was incorporated by E.L. Hall, J.I. Clark, E.D. Newsome, Seaborn Daniels, Freeman Hill, C.B. Adams, H.N. Clark, M.H. O'Neal, W.A. Kemp, Thomas Mitchell, R.W. Thomas, Joe Hall and Frank Kilo. The second annual fair was held in November of 1917. E.D. Newsome was chairman of the event. Highlights of the fair included a parade, agricultural exhibits, the Ging Carnival Company, and a "Wild West" Show. Thirty one hundred people showed up on Wednesday of the six-day fair.

In 1918, the Fair Association elected W.L. Hughes as President of the fair. Other fair officers were: E.L. Hall, Secretary; J.W. Dent, Secretary to Board of Directors; and E.D. Newsome, Manager. The board was composed of W.L. Hughes, J.W. Dent, E.L. Hall, W.A. Jenkins, E.J. Newsome, D.F. Kemp, W.T. Wood, Major Thomas, and E.D. Newsome. That year's fair was scheduled for November 4, 1918. In April of 1918, another fair association was organized. The new organization was known as the Oconee Fair Association. It was incorporated by J.J. Jenkins, Dr. H.T. Jones, T.C. Kinchen, William May, and W.F. Robinson. The group decided to purchase their own land and to custom build their fairgrounds to suit their needs. In June, the association purchased a three acre tract on the east side of Washington Street from J.M. Page. The new fairgrounds were opposite Washington Street School, which was located between the Katherine Gray Library and Howard Chapel Church.

The fairgrounds stretched from South Washington to South Decatur Street and featured a one-half mile race track. The track was four sided with the southern end being slightly longer than the northern end. At the entrance to the fair grounds was a two-story exhibition hall. A half-dozen livestock sheds were scattered around the sides of the track. The Association fell on hard times in 1924. The property was sold for taxes by the city and the county. President R. Perry and Secretary B.D. Perry stepped in and repurchased the property. The whole county was experiencing a devastating depression. The local economy was destroyed when the boll weevil came to the county in 1918. Farmers, especially the African-American tenant farmers, were
leaving the county in masses. In 1924, Laurens County still had over four thousand farms. The money, however, was not so plentiful. In 1930, President J.S. Edmond and Secretary D.C. Lampkin secured a loan from C.W. Brantley to keep the fair operating. Once again in 1934, the fairgrounds were sold to pay the taxes. The Interstate Bond Company, a company which specialized in grabbing up lands near railroads, purchased the property. President B.D. Perry made the necessary arrangements and bought the property back in 1935.

During the war years, the fair was probably suspended. It was around this time that the association turned its thoughts to buying a new place to hold their fairs. The Association sold the Washington Street fairgrounds to the City of Dublin Housing Authority. At that time Dr. B.D. Perry was still serving as President. O.N. Lewis was the Vice-President. John Stanley served as the Secretary-Treasurer. John Stanley secured a site on the corner of South Decatur Street and Garner Street near Oconee High School. Stanley sold it to the Association for $4,000.00. Fairs were held on the site until the early 1960s. By that time the fairs were almost exclusively for entertainment only. Mid-ways with games and rides had replaced the agricultural and cultural exhibits. Once integrated fairs began on the lot behind the County Agricultural Center, the South Decatur fairgrounds were abandoned. The county fair, a symbol of Fall, is long gone now. The smells - hay, animals, cotton candy, candied apples, and popcorn. It was a time when the county fair was one of most anticipated and favorite events of the year.

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