SOUTH HAVEN — Bev Brown didn’t know what to expect last year when South Haven’s Ward 1 Community Action Committee decided to host a community picnic at Elkenburg Park.
“I thought we’d be lucky if we got 40 people. We ended up with 400,” she recalled, laughing.
The success of last year’s event spurred the committee to turn the picnic into an annual event, which they hope will be bigger and better than last year.
The second annual Community Picnic is 6-8 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 25, at Elkenburg Park, corner of Elkenburg and Kalamazoo streets. The rain date is Tuesday, Aug. 27, at the same time.
“Over 15 groups are helping to provide fun, food and pride in our diverse heritage,” Brown said. “The meat is provided and all are asked to bring a dish to pass and a lawn chair. But all are invited even if you don’t feel like cooking.”
This year’s event will include activities for children and musical entertainment, but it will differ slightly in that the history and contributions of South Haven’s black community will be included as part of the city’s 150th anniversary celebration.
“(The picnic) will highlight the positive impact African Americans have made in the community,” Brown said. “There will be displays, photographs and memorabilia collected from private citizens, the black churches and the Black Leadership Society.”
Black people began settling in the South Haven area following the Civil War. However, very little historical information about the contributions they have made has been compiled. Until now.
Bishop Dorothy Sherrod and several other longtime South Haven residents have been busy compiling information into a book that recounts the lives of prominent black people from South Haven, and the organizations they have formed over the years.
The book will be on display at the picnic.
“This has been years and years in the making,” Sherrod said referring to the book that chronicles the lives of black people in the South Haven area who have been honored over the years by the Black Leadership Society.
Sherrod, Myrna Llorens and Beth Keithly all gathered information for the biographies and received assistance from the Historical Association of South Haven.
Some of the people included in the book are the late William Roscoe Pearson Sr., who in 1969 became the first black person to be named to the South Haven City Council. He, along with Kenneth Holland and Horace Arrington played an instrumental role in the creation of Elkenburg Park.
Another person included in the book, Virginia Allison, became the first black nurse to work in the operating room at South Haven Community Hospital, while Mae Howell ran a successful women’s apparel store, Mae’s Dress Shoppe in Chicago for 23 years before moving to South Haven to open another dress shop that thrived for 11 years until she retired due to health reasons.
“Mae dressed the first black Miss South Haven,” Sherrod recalled.
The book also includes blacks who served in World War II and pastors who started churches in South Haven and the surrounding area, including Ray and Hulda Brown, who started Church of the Living God, in 1923. It now has become Emmanuel Community Church.
The book also recounts the accomplishments of black school principals, business owners, doctors, musicians, political activists and community leaders.
“These are stories about the black community that need to be told and haven’t,” Sherrod said. “South Haven’s history is rich with the contributions of numerous African-Americans. The photographs and narratives included in the book highlight a small but meaningful representation of these prominent members of our community.”
In addition to the black history display and the dinner, Youth Development Corp. and the Boys and Girls Club will offer games for children, while the South Haven Center for the Arts and Liberty Hyde Bailey Museum will coordinate art projects.
Foundry Hall cultural arts organization will lead the musical entertainment, while in a flashback to the past, South Haven Area Emergency Services will demonstrate a “bucket brigade.”