by Darissa Townes, contributor
On the weekend of May 6-8, John Wesley Dobbs Avenue hosted the 32nd Sweet Auburn Springfest.
Having gone to the Dogwood Festival a few weeks ago, I expected a similar atmosphere, but I was delightfully surprised with the Springfest. The festival had a strong emphasis on music, having stages for singers and rappers who were selected to perform. The food stalls and tents set up along the streets played music varying from jazz covers to rap.
It was surprising that the vast majority of festival-goers were black as the Sweet Auburn district is a historic African-American neighborhood. During the days of Jim Crow, black residents had lived here becoming what Civil Rights activist John Wesley Dobbs had described as “the richest Negro street in the world.”
The Springfest also had a big focus on food. While the Dogwood Festival had a designated location for a food court, this festival had food stalls lining the whole area. Vendors were openly cooking ribs, wings and other good eats on massive barbeques that produced amazing smells making me nostalgic for those late summer weekends spent at home in New York, my dad making burgers and hotdogs on the grill as I savoured the few days before school.
The location of the Springfest itself was also interesting. Four ramps to the Downtown Connector were cut off all weekend for the event and the biggest space for the venue went under the massive overpass for I-75 and I-85. I had driven down this road once before, so it was quite a delight to be walking down the same street. What I had once seen as just a regular street was now a bustling avenue of food and music.
The Sweet Auburn Springfest is just one of the many events dedicated to reviving this historic Sweet Auburn neighborhood which has since fallen victim to crime and poverty. But the volume of attendees to this year’s event proved to be a reassuring sign of things to come for this remarkable neighborhood. It’s no wonder that I was reminded of home while I was there.