Hobson prepares big reunion

Published 9:28 pm Thursday, August 13, 2009

The village of Hobson may not seem like much today, but 300 years ago it was a bustling community of freed slaves who had left James City County in search of a place where they could live and support themselves.

On Saturday, past and current Hobson residents will gather on the grounds of Mount Lebanon COGIC on Mount Lebanon Avenue to celebrate that heritage, to share stories of more recent history and to consider the potential for rebirth in their community.

“We felt a need to expose our hidden heritage,” said Mary Hill, who is coordinating the eighth annual reunion through the Suffolk African-American Cultural Society Inc.

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Hill, a seventh-generation resident of Hobson, has a deep sense of pride in her community, and she’s excited about it prospects.

“This is home,” she said Thursday. “We’ve been here, and we’re just a determined group of people who are determined for this to remain our birthright.”

When the original group of freed slaves settled in the area alongside Carter Cove Creek, they became farmers, fishermen and oystermen, she said.

The farms largely have been replaced by housing developments, and kepone poisoning of the waterways in the 1950s and 1960s put an end to livelihoods that were made on the water, she added.

But oysters have begun to rebound, and the community has always maintained its lease on oysterbeds through the Virginia Marine Resources Commission.

Hill can imagine a day when the shoreline developed by her ancestors will once again play host to oyster boats owned and operated by people in the community.

“We’re trying to resurrect our village — and preserve a part of American history,” she said.

Preservation is a big part of the reason the annual reunion exists.

It was conceived by a former pastor of the community’s Macedonia Baptist Church, which was established in 1876. He wanted people with ties to the village to have a venue where they could get together and take part in telling its story, she said.

The event always has been free and open to the public, but in recent years, folks in the community have seen a need to encourage more outside participation, to share their story with a wider audience.

This year, the reunion will be supported by a variety of corporate sponsors, and Hill encourages everyone to come and join the fun.

There will be free food and drinks; vendors selling a variety of arts and crafts, fashions and services; entertainment ranging from gospel music to juggling to horseback riding demonstrations; and information booths manned by the NAACP, the FBI and others.

Special guests will include the Tuskegee Airmen and the Appalachian Nation Cherokee Indians.

“This is an opportunity to bring resources to the village that would otherwise be out of reach,” Hill said.

The event is scheduled from 2 to 8 p.m., and opening ceremonies will include a VFW color guard and a keynote speaker.

For more information, call Hill at 582-8895.