Southeastern festivals to celebrate black heritage

The period between the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday in January and the end of February is a time for all Americans to reflect on African-American heritage. Many festivals throughout the South celebrate this history and culture.

1. Tampa Bay Black Heritage Festival in Tampa. Jan. 14-23.

This 10-day event begins the week before the King holiday and ends the weekend after. Designed to promote cultural sensitivity and highlight diversity, it’s a family-friendly affair that features the arts, crafts and music of African and African-American cultures. Signature events for the 2010 fest include the Heritage Gala, a formal dinner Jan. 15 at Busch Gardens’ Moroccan Palace, and the two-day Heritage Street Festival on Jan. 16 and 17. The street festival will feature music by funk group Lakeside and saxophonist B.K. Jackson, as well as showcase different “villages,” such as the Children’s Village, the Authors’ Village and the Artists’ Village. On Jan. 20, Charles Sherrod, a key leader during the civil rights movement of the 20th century, will be the featured speaker at the Heritage Leadership Luncheon.

Stay: Sailport Waterfront Suites. Affordable full-service resort on the bay. Rates $89-$139. 2506 N. Rocky Point Drive. 813-281-9599; www.sailport.com.

Eat: Tampa Bay Brewing Co. Burgers, pizza, steaks and seafood served along with handcrafted ales. Entrees $9.99-$19.99. 1600 E. Eighth Ave. 813-247-1422; www.tampabaybrewing company.com.

Info: Tampa Bay and Co. 813-223-1111; www.visittampabay.com, www.tampablack heritage.org.

2. Dream 365 MLK Celebration in Columbus, Miss. Jan. 15-18

As one might guess by the title, the purpose of Dream 365 is to celebrate the life, legacy and dream of King all year, not just on the holiday. But the holiday deserves extra-special attention, of course, hence the Dream 365 Celebration weekend in downtown Columbus each year.

Events for the 2010 festival include the Youth Unity Step Show at the Trotter Convention Center to kick things off the evening of Jan. 15, the “Showtime at the Trotter” talent competition the night of Jan. 16 and a gospel concert Jan. 17. The last day of the celebration will feature an essay contest for students and the Unsung Hero Awards, which pay tribute to the unsung heroes of the civil rights movement. Featured speakers for the 2010 festival are Black Entertainment Television personality Terrence J and Columbus’ first African-American mayor, Robert Smith, who was elected to office in 2006.

Stay: Shadowlawn Bed and Breakfast. Six rooms in an antebellum mansion and a guest cottage. Rates $140-$295. 1024 College St. 662-327-5655; www.shadow lawncolumbus.com.

Eat: J. Broussard's Restaurant. New Orleans-style cuisine in downtown Columbus. Entrees $14-$30. 210 Fifth St. S. 662-243-1480; www.jbroussards.com.

Info: Columbus Convention and Visitors Bureau. 662-329-1191; www.columbus-ms.info, www.dream365.org.

3. Hilton Head Island (S.C.) Gullah Celebration, Feb. 1-28

This monthlong event takes place at various locations on the island and celebrates the living history of the Gullah, an African-American culture of the Lowcountry that has kept many elements of its West African heritage alive, even through centuries of bondage. The 2010 festival starts the evening of Feb. 1 with a reception at the De Aarts Ob We People XIII exhibit at the Walter Greer Gallery. Appearing at the reception will be artist Jonathan Green, whose paintings capture the daily life of the modern Gullah people. One of the most popular events at each year’s festival is the Arts, Craft and Food Expo (Feb. 13 and 14). Other highlights include the Gullah Film Festival with screenings on Monday nights at the Colingny Plaza Theater and De Gullah Youth Musical at Hilton Head High School (Feb. 21).

Stay: South Beach Inn. At the southern tip of Hilton Head adjacent to a marina, shops and restaurants. 232 S. Sea Pines Drive. Rates $54-$186. 843-671-6498; www.sbinn.com.

Eat: Skillets Grill and Cafe. Surf and turf restaurant with a Southern flair. Entrees $10.95-$21.95. Coligny Plaza, 1 N. Forest Beach Drive, Hilton Head Island. 843-785-3131; www.skilletscafe.com, www.gullahcelebration.com.

Info: Hilton Head Island Visitor and Convention Bureau. 843-785-3673; www.hiltonheadisland. org.

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