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August Quarterly's legacy in Wilmington transcends "urban removal" of 1960s, 70s

Courtesy of the Delaware Historical Society
The Wilmington Big August Quarterly in 1939.


The August Quarterly – an important annual event for African Americans – starts this weekend.


The August Quarterly is also known as the “Big Quarterly” – and boy, is it big. The week-long Wilmington festival is one of the largest African American celebrations in the country, drawing thousands of visitors from surrounding states and even as far as the Carolinas.


Lawrence Roane is chairman of the August Quarterly, and has been involved since he was 17 years old.


“August, mmm," Roane said. "I get so excited because August Quarterly is coming. Growing up in the August Quarterly as a boy you could see the older people, their dedication, their love for what was going on.”


Roane is known as "Mr. August Quarterly" in Wilmington. He started out selling soda at the event as a 17-year-old, and helping out however he could.

Now he’s chairman of the 203-year-old annual festival which he says has drawn around 10,000 people in recent years.


“And the month of August,you know how hot it gets," Roane said. "People come to church dressed to kill. They have their best suits on, I have seen men coming up in the month of August wearing charcoal black suits, but that’s all they had.”


And the festival has only gotten bigger over the 203 years of its existence, started in 1813 by civil rights activist Peter Spencer.


What started as a short break for captive slaves to experience a glimpse of freedom has evolved into a celebration of African American culture and continuous fight for equality, despite what’s known as “urban removal” in the 1960s and 70s that wiped out many of the original historic churches that were clustered on French Street.


“The August Quarterly kind of has a life of its own," Pastor of Wilmington's Mother African Union Church, Reverend Lawrence Livingston said. "It’s kind of like a living organism. It might look like it’s dying but it never dies, and it always comes back strong. This event is  really important to the African American community.”


He says French Street was "Main Street" for the African American community before the urban removal process.


Livingston also says that 20 years ago, the event lasted only a weekend – but now lasts an entire week, with revivals each night at different churches throughout the city.


Festivities this year kick off this Sunday, August 21st, with evening revivals held throughout the week and a culminating worship service held Sunday August 28th at the Wilmington Riverfront Chase Center.


A list of all August Quarterly events can be found here.


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