On Oct. 1, a jazz festival is coming to Carver Street, and with it as many as 2,000 attendees. But as plans for the festival march forward, some in the neighborhood say the event, meant to commemorate the history of the street, could have harmful consequences.
Mickey James, leader of the local chapter of the NAACP, said he came up with the idea for the festival to pay homage to the area, which was a hotspot for black culture with performances from the likes of Otis Redding and Ella Fitzgerald in the mid-20th century.
Now, the street is largely residential, with a handful of businesses, a location of the Boys and Girls Club, the Garden of Hope, two churches, but mostly the small, squat houses of the people who call Carver home. James said he’s hoping to remind attendees of the history of the area, when the street was lined with shops, clubs and bars.
“We came on board with the idea of trying to get (the younger generation) involved with the history of this community,” James said. “So we felt that jazz would be a way to try to get a lot of older generation and some of your mix of younger generation to come together to kind of look at how it used to be back in the day.”
James said he had an idea of how the neighborhood would feel when he pitched this idea. However, many leaders and residents on the street told The Sun News they were not contacted before the city approved the festival.
Now, some are saying the event should be moved out of the area before its debut.
Conflict over alcohol
The jazz festival will start at 1 p.m. and will include a beer and wine garden. Attendees will not be able to leave that area with their drinks or bring alcohol.
Some say that introducing alcohol to the street could lead to a dangerous situation. Booker T. Washington, the neighborhood in which Carver Street resides, saw a spate of shootings at the beginning of the year. However, Lt. Joey Crosby of the Myrtle Beach Police said local authorities now receive calls from the neighborhood “no more than any other area.”
Magaline Grant was was born on Carver Street and still lives in a one-level, blue-and-white house that’s been in her family since the 60s. A former preacher, Grant remembers a childhood when Carver Street featured not just clubs but candy stores and shops. She has emerged as one of the strongest voices opposing alcohol at the festival.
“I just have a problem with them having it on Carver Street and them selling alcohol. They were never supposed to have alcohol other than that little place on the other side of [Friendly Barber Shop] that was grandfathered in,” Grant said, referring to a recent zoning change that barred new businesses from selling alcohol on the street.
Grant once attended the many clubs on Carver, but said after she found religion in 1974, she stopped going, except for meals.
She has communicated with the city multiple times, speaking at a city council meeting Aug. 23 and with City Manager John Pedersen before that, suggesting that the event be moved.
Others in Booker T. Washington also have expressed concerns about the festival. Pastor Thomas Habersham, who has headed the Mt. Olive AME Church on Carver Street since November, said the beer and wine garden would be similar to opening a club for the night.
“I don’t mind having it. It’s just after – I wonder if you’re gonna have folks locked up after,” said Habersham, who leads a membership of about 225.
Habersham said that he was hesitant to speak for others because he is new to the community. However, he said, the event should have been planned with the coordination of community leaders, and the event had already been approved by the time he heard about it.
“We have people who speak for this community who aren’t invested in this community,” he said.
Linda Holoman, chair of the neighborhood’s Garden of Hope, told city council at the Aug. 23 meeting she was concerned the crowds would be too big, and suggested moving the festival to the area where the Myrtle Square Mall used to be.
“You can’t get but so many chairs out there (on Carver) for people to sit,” she said. “You can’t sit in the road because of activities, and the vendors are going to be out there.”
City officials have heralded the event as one that may revitalize the neighborhood. Other events are planned for Booker T Washington, too – for example, on Oct. 29, there will be a tree-planting ceremony aided by a $6,000 grant from TD Bank. At the event, local kids will be able to paint benches, pavers and planters in the Garden of Hope.
The jazz festival is by far the most prominent of these new efforts to focus on the area. James said the city manager found the idea of the festival “profound” when they first spoke about it.
But when the idea of moving the event came up on the morning of Aug. 23, Councilman Mike Chestnut was resistant.
“If they want to move it, they can move it without our money,” Chestnut said.
The city and the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce each are contributing $10,000 to the festival. An additional $4,627 in in-kind services will be provided by the city.
“We’re gonna try it here and see how it works out. If it’s overcrowded or too crowded, we’ll look at another venue next year,” James said. “It was late in the game to try to move it.”
Edna Wright, neighborhood services director for the city, said the festival will remain on Carver Street for this year, “no ifs, ands or buts.”
The event, she said, is meant to “highlight the African-American community,” and vendors from the Booker T. Washington neighborhood will be allowed to sell goods during the event for half the typical registration fee. Other vendors will have to pay the full price of $500.
Business community approves
The few businesses left on Carver Street are largely excited about the event. Atu Williams, of Ocean View Funeral Home on Carver, said he thinks the festival will be positive for black businesses. He said it shouldn’t be any different than other events that include alcohol, like the Carolina Country Music Festival.
“Maybe it will get everybody hyped up, and maybe promoting black businesses in Myrtle Beach, especially given Carver is the only street (in Booker T. Washington) that is zoned to have business,” he said. “It may give us the drive to try and improve our community.”
Williams also said he approved of the initiatives to plant more trees along the street, and said that people on Carver need to take pride in the appearance of their properties.
Ella M. Thomas, the owner of Friendly Barbershop on Carver Street, said she thinks the festival could do a lot to “highlight and uplift” the neighborhood, which is sandwiched between two major thoroughfares – Mr. Joe White Avenue and 21st Avenue.
“I think it’s going to be great for the area,” she said.
Thomas, known as “Ms. Dolly” throughout the neighborhood, will also hold a 50th anniversary celebration for her shop the morning of the festival. That event was planned before the festival was announced, she said.
Thomas said she understood why some people might be hesitant about alcohol in the neighborhood, but said that from a business perspective, it would help bring more people to Carver Street.
“That’s the only way that we’re going to have business,” she said. “We’re going to have to learn to accept certain things. I don’t have any gripes about it, but there’s a whole lot of people that do.”