U.S. Rep. Barbara Lee of California was the keynote speaker at the African American Cultural Society's 30th anniversary celebration on Oct. 24. Lee spoke virtually. Courtesy photos by DeZan Unlimited
Flagler County Supervisor of Elections Kaiti Lenhart and her husband, Flagler Schools Superintendent Cathy Mittelstadt and Flagler County Education Foundation Executive Director Joe Rizzo with his wife.
30th Anniversary Steering Committee: William Seeney, Richard Barnes, Jean Tanner, Geri Wright, Ralph Lightfoot, AACS President Joseph Matthews, master of ceremonies John Winston, Lynda Baten and board chairman Edmund G. Pinto.
James Sharpe's replica of the collective Congressional Gold Medal presented to the Montford Point Marines.
Palm Coast Observer
Over 30 years, the African American Cultural Society in Flagler County has grown from seven founding members to its current 354 members.
The non-profit's mission for the past 30 years has been "to preserve and perpetuate the cultural heritage of African Americans through educational, artistic, intellectual, and social activities and services deemed to be in the best interests of the entire community."
The AACS held a 30th anniversary celebration Oct. 24 at its Cultural Center, 4422 N. U.S. Highway 1.
Flagler County officials celebrated with club members, and the County Board of Commissioners issued a proclamation declaring Oct. 24 "African American Cultural Society Day."
Flagler County Sheriff Rick Staly read the proclamation. U.S. Rep. Barbara Lee, California, was the keynote speaker, addressing the club virtually.
Lee's mentor was Shirley Chisholm, the first Black woman to be elected to Congress and a former resident of Palm Coast. Chisholm was also the first woman to seek the Democratic nomination for president in 1972.
In addition to celebrating the society's 30th birthday, the AACS paid tribute to its last active founding member, James Sharpe, who died this year on June 19 – the day, know as Juneteenth, that commemorates the end of slavery.
Sharpe, was among the "Montford Point Marines" who were presented with a collective Congressional Gold Medal in 2012. He served in World War II as one of the first African Americans in the Marine Corps, training at segregated Montford Point in North Carolina.
The AACS sold just 120 tickets to the celebration, due to social distancing, and was sold out in two weeks, said Stephanie Matthews, the 30th anniversary chairperson.
The AACS has programs celebrating Juneteenth and Kwanzaa. The Youth Black History Reality Program celebrates Black History Month each February. Youth dress up as famous African Americans and sing, dance, give speeches and put on plays. Over the years, the AACS has awarded about $100,000 in college scholarships to participants in the program, Matthews said.
The organization has an African studies group and presents cultural films three times a month. The Cultural Center has a selection of African American art and artifacts donated over the years.
Matthews said the AACS purchased five acres of land on U.S. 1 and built the Cultural Center in 2001, paying off its $580,000 mortgage two years early through member donations and fund raisers.
A 30-year retrospective of the art of Bettie Eubanks will be on display and open to the public beginning Nov. 4 at the Cultural Center. The AACS has also been selected as a Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service site and will present its first exhibit in January: A Place for All People.
"We've been trying to perpetuate the African American diaspora throughout the community. In other words keep our heritage alive, spread it and keep it going," AACS President Joseph Matthews said.