Henry Street Heritage Festival honors legacy of lost district

Festival pays tribute to historic center of Roanoke's black community

By Taj Simmons - Reporter

ROANOKE, Va. - The Henry Street Heritage Festival will fill Elmwood Park with music this weekend, but the museum behind the event hopes attendees learn about its roots.

Henry Street was the historic center of Roanoke's black community, specifically the Gainsboro neighborhood, during segregation. The street contained multiple shops, a theater and a hotel.

The street emptied after urban renewal in the 1960s and 1970s led to construction through the neighborhood, including Interstate 581, the Berglund Center and the Roanoke Post Office. The surviving buildings are now on the National Register of Historic Places; most of them are now part of the Roanoke Higher Education Center.

The Harrison Museum of African American Culture first organized the festival on Henry Street 30 years ago, but it has since grown and moved to Elmwood Park. The people behind the museum see the festival as a way to remind Roanokers of the way the neighborhood once was.

"It's just making sure we remember at one point, we weren't able to do this publicly," said Nakia Palmer of the Harrison Museum of African American Culture. "We weren't able to showcase our culture. We weren't able to let everybody hear our voices and hear our music."

This year's festival is on Saturday, Sept. 14, and features a concert by rhythm and blues group Dru Hill at 7 p.m.

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