June 19, 2005
By AMANDA BUCK
Bulletin Staff Writer
??? From storytelling and song to step shows and Double Dutch jump rope,
area residents heralded the return of the June German Ball this weekend
with two days of celebration.
??? Held in Martinsville's black community, probably from the late 1930s
through the 1960s, the June German Ball once attracted large crowds and
nationally known performers, records indicate. Although the event ended
several decades ago, it lived on in the minds of area residents.
? This weekend, several of those residents watched their memories come
to life as the Fayette Area Historical Initiative (FAHI) revived the
June German Ball. Before the dance, held Saturday night at Forest Park
Country Club, FAHI hosted a variety of events uptown.
??? W. Nelson Gilbert, a Martinsville native who lives in Warrenton, was
in town Friday to read a selection from his book, "Daddy Rabbit and the
June German Ball." He based the book on Martinsville?s ball and used his
father, the late George T. Gilbert, as inspiration for the title
??? "I had no idea it would have this impact on Martinsville," Gilbert
said Friday as he signed copies of the children?s book at the Kappa
House on Franklin Street. He said he was surprised when he learned that
FAHI was bringing the ball back and was happy to participate in the
??? He said the attention his book has received is an honor for him and
his father, who was known as "Daddy Rabbit."
??? "I know my father was jumping up and down in heaven," he said.
??? In addition to Gilbert, Carolyn Blue of Bassett, Mary Ferris of
Martinsville and Fred Motley of Danville shared stories with children
and adults Friday morning.
??? Motley, a member of FAHI who works as a storyteller and theater
director, said telling stories is a valuable way to preserve the area?s
??? "A lot of stuff surrounding the June German Ball hasn't been
documented in print," he said. "We don't have the (written) stories of
the people who attended or wanted to attend. This allows those stories
to be heard."
??? Motley organized the morning?s performances, which included a step
performance by members of Project CHARLIE and a vocal performance by
Darius Harbor, 10, son of Jaretta Harbor and Billy Harbor of Axton.
??? Chelsea Baker of Martinsville, 13, daughter of Germaine and George
Brown, and Leutisha Walker of Ridgeway, 16, daughter of Linda Littlejohn
and Dennis Walker, were two of five step performers Friday morning.
??? As Motley explained before the group's performance, step dancing has
its roots in South Africa, where workers preparing to enter mines danced
as a way to lift their spirits. The girls said they enjoyed the
opportunity to display their routine.
??? "This is our first time performing," Baker said. "It was pretty
??? Motley said attracting children and adults to the weekend's events
was one of FAHI's goals. In the past, celebrations leading up to the
June German Ball involved all ages, he said.
??? "History has told us that the city became alive with anticipation
and fun activities prior to the ball," he said. The weekend's
performances were designed ?to create that same type of atmosphere.
We're trying to recreate that spirit of community once again."
??? In addition to the morning performers, activities included an art
festival sponsored by the Martinsville/Henry County NAACP and the
Sportsman's Club; a performance by TC Carter and The Mighty Warriors;
performances by boys' and girls' step clubs from Albert Harris
Intermediate School; and a performance by a Martinsville and Henry
County-based Double Dutch jump rope team.
??? On Friday evening, a jazz and blues reception featuring Got Groove
was held at the Kappa House. Following that, Motley and the Cultural
Arts Ensemble, based in Danville, joined other poets and writers for
spoken word performances.
??? Motley called the day's events a success.
??? "It's been dormant for a number of years and now it's happening," he
said of the ball's revival. "We have a new generation and a new outlook.
It's almost like starting from the beginning.