Newtown Heritage Festival

City staff and Newtown Heritage Festival representatives discuss details of the proposed March-April 2023 street celebration, which would be the largest in the history of Black Daytona.

City of Daytona Beach staffers met with representatives of the Newtown Heritage Festival, Inc. on Tuesday to review the non-profit organization’s permit to kick off the inaugural Newtown Heritage Festival set for Friday, March 31 through Sunday, April 2, 2023, down a stretch of South Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard.

Festival organizers are asking the city to block off traffic on South Dr. MLK, Jr. Boulevard from Orange Avenue to South Street. They intend to place four separate musical entertainment stages known as “Heritage Villages” on the street as follows:

  • The Gullah Geechee Village (in front of the Dickerson Center). This is to recognize Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune’s Maysville, South Carolina birthplace. The state is the home of Gullah Geechee culture which originated in West Africa.
  • The African Village (in front of Mount Zion AME Church), which recognizes the impact of African culture on the Daytona Beach area. 
  • The Black Daytonans Village (in front of Shiloh Baptist Church), which will recognize and remember notable local families.
  • The Caribbean Village (in front of Mount Bethel Baptist Church), which will celebrate the culture of Caribbean nations.

The festival site starts at South Dr. MLK, Jr. Boulevard and Orange Avenue and extends south to South Street, approximately six-tenths of a mile.

The organizers intend to provide free festival parking at Campbell Middle School and from city-owned property on the corner of Jean Street and Orange Avenue, with shuttle service to the Festival venue.

Parade and march

The proposed Saturday morning, March 31 Carnival Parade and March of Athletes will congregate at the corner of Nova Road and Orange Avenue.

The Grand Marshal, 1984 Olympic gold medal winner Walter McCoy, will lead the way, followed by a carnival music truck and a soca music DJ, a masquerade band, and the athletes separated by groups – Special Olympians, Professionals, Seniors, College/Universities, High Schools, Youth. Local marching bands will be invited to participate, with “Unique and Flashy Cars” at the end.

To the festival site

The parade will proceed east on Orange Avenue approximately seven-tenths of a mile and make a right turn at South Dr. MLK, Jr. Boulevard.

The carnival truck will park at the south end of South Dr. MLK, Jr. and will become the Caribbean Village performance stage. The cars will be parked in assigned areas in the Dickerson Center parking lot. 

Many activities

From Friday, March 31 until Sunday, April 2, activities will include a live music and DJs, a car show, museum and African art exhibits, a Morehouse College Glee Club concert and film festival at the Dickerson Center, authors and speakers, bounce houses, and vendors (food, arts and crafts, merchandise, food trucks, jewelry, beer and wine).

The Dickerson Center, which is currently undergoing improvements, will be the epicenter for many events. Construction on the updated center will be completed by the time the festival kicks off in April 2023.

City contribution

At the Oct. 5 Daytona Beach City Commission meeting, Zone 3 Commissioner Quanita May requested that $30,000 be donated to festival organizers. Her request was unanimously approved by the full commission, and was fully supported by Commissioner Paula Reed, who represents Zone 6, where Newtown is located. Reed herself is a longtime Newtown resident.

May and Reed will be the honorary chairs of the event. The $30,000 allocation will be awarded to organizers once the permit is okayed by city staff and approved by a vote of the city commission.

Where is ‘Newtown?’

In the early 1900s, Daytona had three distinct African American communities: Waycross, Newtown, and Midway. Newtown is a historic neighborhood in the heart of modern Daytona Beach’s Black community.

Generally speaking, its boundaries are International Speedway Boulevard to the north; the Florida East Coast Railway railroad tracks to the east; Loomis Avenue to the south; and Nova Road to the west.

According to local historian Dr. Leonard Lempel, Waycross was where world-renowned theologian Dr. Howard Thurman was born in 1899 in a house that still stands at 614 Whitehall Street in Daytona Beach. 

Lempel notes that Waycross, the most southern of Daytona’s Black communities, was situated south of Loomis Avenue to around current-day Bellevue Avenue. 

(Historically, the area formerly known as “Midway” and now commonly referred to as “Midtown” is north of International Speedway Boulevard.)

Currently, the city’s Black Heritage Trail is comprised 18 structures in Black Daytona. Eight are located in what was formerly called the Newtown and Waycross communities.

From federal funds

The money May designated comes from federal funds received by the city from the Coronavirus Local Fiscal Recovery Fund, which were provided by the Biden administration’s American Rescue Plan.

Each commissioner has a total of $250,000 to be donated to organizations or invested in projects that would benefit the city.

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