Should Olden Days name be changed?

Published 1:00 pm Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Tynes said some disturbed by name’s connotation

By Matt Leonard

Staff Writer

Smithfield Town Council member Denise Tynes said last week that the name “Olden Days” has negative connotations for minorities, specifically the black community, and that perhaps the name should be changed.

She brought up the issue at a June 28 Town Council committee meeting, and to the surprise of Isle of Wight Tourism Director Judy Winslow, who heads up Smithfield’s annual summer festival.

“In talking with some African American and mixed-race people, they have voiced concern over the title of the Olden Days Festival,” Tynes said.

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She specifically noted a friend, a college professor, who came to Olden Days as an out-of-towner. He was surprised by the vintage attire of some in attendance and the name of the festival, she said

Tynes said her friends followed up with a joke: “Well, did you see any lynchings?” {mprestriction ids=”1,2,3,4,5,6″}

The comments surprised Tynes.

 “I was the only one there from Smithfield and it really hit me right in the face,” she said.

Windsor was less clear about the comment.

“I’m not sure what the day Olden Days has to do with lynchings,” Winslow said.

Tynes said it would be hard for someone to understand if they aren’t African American. Events and festivals that harken back to a time when slavery was a reality for your ancestors can make for an unpleasant experience, she said.

“It’s not something we don’t want to think about,” Tynes said. “We think about it every day because things happen in our every day lives to bring this back. We embrace our heritage, but is it something that we continue to live? No.”

Tynes suggested a name change and maybe more events planned with black groups or entertainers.

Winslow said that changing the name of the festival could hurt the event’s brand, saying people recognize “Olden Days” and look forward to attending. But she said she is always open to more involvement from any group that was interested in participating. Of all of her years in Smithfield, though, Winslow said she had never heard such a complaint.

Tynes said the concerns were likely directed to her because she is the only minority to currently sit on the Smithfield Town Council.

“I thought ‘oh God, I don’t want anyone thinking like that about Smithfield,’” Tynes said. Winslow agreed.

Isle of Wight County NAACP President Valerie Cofer Butler was asked if she’s heard complaints about the Olden Days name, and she said it hasn’t been an issue as far as she knows, but would inquire about it in the community.

Andrew Cripps, the Isle of Wight Chamber of Commerce president, said he didn’t have an opinion on the matter and the Chamber has never discussed it.

“I would be interested in hearing what other suggestions there are,” Cripps said.

A few months ago, Tynes suggested that maybe Smithfield needed to add events catering to a more diverse crowd. Festivals hosted by the town tend to attract mostly white crowds and aren’t events likely to draw a black audience, she said.

Tynes said that the African American community in Smithfield doesn’t feel as though the festivals and events held in the town are planned with them in mind.

The Olden Days festival began in the early 1990s and focused on the symphony performance at Windsor Castle. Over the years it evolved, and today, consists mostly of music, craft, merchandise and food vendors, a car show, a kids bike and pet parade and the raft race.  {/mprestriction}