Conceptualized at a Navassa native’s funeral in Newark, New Jersey brought to fruition the idea of a Navassa Homecoming celebration. Cornelius “Beezle” Bryant, a Navassa native, died in 1981. Bryant was well-known in Navassa, thus, several Navassa residences traveled to New Jersey to attend his funeral. While attending various gatherings at Bryant’s homegoing celebration those in attendance concluded that the only time family and friends “got together” was at someone’s funeral. Those Navassa natives from the northeastern states were willing to “come home” for a special occasion provided they were given ample amount of time for travel preparations. Before leaving Bryant’s funeral it was decided to organize a “Homecoming” Banquet in correlation with the 4th of July holiday. Logically, this holiday would permit family and friends traveling to utilize the holiday as catalyst to have extended travel and leisure time.
Forming a 10-person committee saw the manifestation of a Homecoming Banquet materialize. Essie Lofton Willis, a Navassa native living in Bridgeport, Connecticut, called and coordinated the first meeting. The meeting was held November 1981 at Willie “Shack” Lofton’s home, Essie’s father.
As plans for the Homecoming Banquet began to come clear the banquet’s ability to achieve desired results appeared to be lacking. Community Leaders and Activists did not believe the banquet on its own was not substantial enough for what would be an annual event for the Town of Navassa. With the self-appointments of Willa Horton and Eulis Willis a Parade committee was established to additionally honor the occasion. A six-member Parade committee was formed to ensure the parade’s sustainability and success. As a fundraiser mechanism the Parade committee opted to hold a pageant. The pageant’s winner would be crowned the Homecoming Queen and her entrance via float would be made during the parade. This contest would become one of three events as a part of the Homecoming activities.
As the events of Navassa’s Homecoming Festival started to evolve Layton White, a Navassa native and U.S. Army Drill Sergeant wanted to contribute to the Homecoming celebration. Layton was home on military leave. Layton trained the local boys in the art of marching and drilling, eventually leading to the formation of the N.B.O. (Navassa Boys Only) drill team. The team’s primary participants were composed of: Kenny Lewis, Carl Jean Alston, and Carlton Moseley. Their theme song “Planet Rock” combined with high energy routines would elevate drill teams to follow including transitioning to a co-ed squad.
Navassa’s first banquet was held at North Brunswick School on Saturday, July 10, 1982. Family and friends traveled from various states, traveling with the most attendees via charter bus were from Baltimore, Maryland. Many prominent people were on program; however, the keynote address was delivered by Ernest Swain, a former principal of Navassa Elementary School in 1943. Mayor Louis Brown and Mrs. Reatha Bryant provided additional remarks. The banquet did not flourish as well as other festival events and it was decided to discontinue the banquet as an annual function. The banquet would interfere with other popular festival functions and banquet participation was minimal. Scrapping the banquet was not entirely dissipated, but the consensus opted to wait on the new Community Center.
The parade was a success and has become the staple for the entire festival. The parade concept has been adopted by most Afro-American communities in Southeastern North Carolina. The parade was a gateway to the organization that has taken over planning, scheduling, and coordinating the entire Homecoming weekend on an annual basis, they also provide sponsorship and coordination for the activities at the annual M.L. King celebration, in addition to sponsoring the Navassa Drum and Drill Team. The parade’s leadership is rotated among committee members. Two original committee members have passed way: Bernard Merrick (1996) and Wilhelmena Brown Horton (2007), both played a prominent role in the parade’s continued longevity and success.