Freedom Arts Festival Celebrates Sarah E. Ray in Metro Parks

With a day of dance, music, and spoken word performances across Metro Detroit

A. Spencer Barefield Homecoming Ensemble performs at the Detroit Jazz Festival, Sept. 6, 2015, downtown Detroit Michigan. A. Spencer Barefield on guitar, Dave Young on bass, James Carter and Dave McMurray on saxophones, Jannina Norpoth on violin, Djallo Keita on drums and Harvey Thompson on vocals. Photos by ©Barbara Barefield

The Sarah E. Ray Project, the Detroit Parks Coalition and People for Palmer Park will celebrate Sarah Ray’s legacy through music, spoken word, dance and art exhibits that explore both the life of Ray and the fights for equality that she inspire. The Detroit Parks Coalition Freedom Art’s Festival takes place Aug. 20. across parks in Metro Detroit.

Courtesy of Detroit Parks Coalition

Back in 1945, Ray, a 24-year-old Black secretary, was denied a seat on the segregated Boblo boat, the SS Columbia. Like Rosa Parks, she refused to back down, taking her fight for integration all the way to the United States Supreme Court. Represented by the legendary Thurgood Marshall, Ray won her case. Scholars argue that she paved the way for the seminal, 1954 Brown v. Board of Education, which found that separate was inherently unequal. She continued to be a civil rights activist throughout her life, mentoring and inspiring future generations until passing away in 2006.

Djallo Djakate of A Spencer Barfield Quintelat performing at The Freedom Arts Festival. Photo by Barbara Barefield

The Freedom Arts Festival

Sarah E. Ray’s celebration is from 1-5 p.m. on Saturday, Aug. 20 outside the Palmer Park Community House; 1121 Merrill Plaisance, Detroit. Entry is free.

Sarah E. Ray

Sarah Ray’s legacy will also be honored through multiple performances in Palmer Park. Featured artists include the A. Spencer Barefield Quintet, the Detroit-Windsor Dance Academy with Detroit-Windsor Dance Academy Artistic Director Debra White-Hunt and the duo of Bill Harris and Rev. Robert Jones. Both Barefield and White-Hunt are creating new works to accompany narratives about Sarah Ray written by Pulitzer Prize-nominated journalist, author and historian Desiree Cooper.

Detroit-Windsor Dance Academy

Calendar of events for the Freedom Arts Festival are below.

  • Aug. 17 at the Dequindre Cut: Taiwanese puppet theatre and D. Cipher music series with R&B performer Al Bettis.
  • Aug. 27 at Belle Isle: Art, music, dance, storytelling, and food trucks with the Belle Isle Conservancy.
  • Aug. 2 at Clark Park: Clark Park Coalition’s annual COPA Motor City soccer tournament with local artists, dancing, Mercado, and live entertainment.
  • Sept. 10 at Rouge Park: Celebration of indigenous ornithologist and journalist Etta S Wilson with the Detroit Sugarbush Project and Friends of Rouge Park, plus performances by Vibes with the Tribes.
  • Oct. 1 at Eliza Howell Park: Community singing, dancing, drum performances, and candlelight healing ceremony with Sidewalk Detroit.

More info is available at

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