I have always been fascinated by the story of Jester Hairston, ever since reading "The Hairstons: A Family in Black and White." I was amazed by his legacy and the fact that very little people knew who he was. Last week as I spoke about how Jester traveled the country collecting spirituals from African-Americans, Molly McGinn said, "He was a song catcher." Yes. I love that term, one I had never heard before.
Many people around Stokes County know about Jester, because he is a local legend. Several are related to him. Jester was the driving force behind the National Hairston Clan, which meets every year somewhere around the country. The first meeting was held at Rock Hill Baptist Church, where we have also met numerous times for our Residents for Coal Ash Clean Up Meetings.
Leading up to The Lilies Project grant launch, we questioned if Jester was actually born in Stokes County. Belews Creek is located on the four corners of Stokes, Rockingham, Forsyth and Guilford counties. As late as December, someone interjected that he was born in Surry County. Finally I said, it doesn't matter where he was born, we are claiming him anyway. Several towns honor O'Henry, including Greensboro and Asheville. We are honoring Jester.
In January at our Lilies Project Kick-off, we shared the documentary "Amen: The Life of Jester Hairston." After the screening, we opened the floor to the community to share stories and ask questions. In that moment, we learned that not only was Jester from Stokes County, he was born in Little Egypt, which was the land flooded to build Belews Lake for the Duke Energy Power Station in the early 70s. Wow. So perhaps this confluence of ideas have stronger connections than I ever fully considered.
Throughout the grant period, we hope to elevate the hidden excellence of so many of our Stokes County natives. The leader of this merry band is Jester Hairston, the song catcher, who gathered the African-American spirituals of America and shared it with the world. Thank you, Jester.
Enjoy this preview of the Amen documentary, which is so inspiring. A copy is available at the Stokes County Arts Council for additional community screenings. Tufts University holds the Jester Hairston Collection and offers this Digital Archive of images for our local relatives to learn more about Jester's life and legacy.
We are sharing his music with #JesterSings. Be sure to tag any performance that you hear, so that we may include it with our online concert.