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American Routes Shortcuts: Winnsboro Easter Rock Ensemble

Peter Jones
National Endowment for the Arts
Winnsboro Easter Rock Ensemble

It's that time of year for gathering with family and friends in thanksgiving, but also for us at American Routes, it's time to celebrate the National Endowment for the Arts Heritage Fellows. Each year the NEA recognizes traditional artists for their excellence and contributions to our nation’s heritage. It's the highest award in the traditional arts. The Winnsboro Easter Rock ensemble carries on a women's African American spiritual ritual. Originally performed by enslaved Africans in the northeast Louisiana Delta region. It combines Christian worship and the West African ring shout tradition. The Easter Rock is held the day before Easter with call and response vocals, foot stomping, food, and symbols to commemorate the death and resurrection of Christ. The Winnsboro Easter Rock Ensemble are the last known practitioners of the ritual, and they've taken the tradition outside of the church to the Louisiana Folklife Festival and the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival.

Hattie Addison Burkhalter: I'm Hattie Addison Burkhalter. I started rocking at the age of six years old under the leadership of my grandmother, Ms. Eliza White, and then my mother, and been rocking ever since. And we continue the tradition, we're rocking to a risen savior, and we just thank the Lord that we'll continue in his name. The lamp represents the twelve tribes of Israel, the cake represents the twelve disciples, the punch represents the blood, the egg represents the breaking of the grave when He got up on Sunday morning, and also the banner, it represents carrying the cross: the resurrection of Jesus Christ. When we get to the church, it is so spiritual. I mean we have sometimes shouting, we have solo singers, we have prayer; we start out with the prayer, and it's just real religious.

Nikiya Pleasant: My name is Nikiya Pleasant. I'm from Winnsboro, Louisiana. I've been rocking since 1986. You have to go back to thinking about my grandmother or your great grandmother. Inside it was like, I can live through my family, and I wasn't even there back in the days to know what it was like. How did they worship outside the church when there wasn't even a building, and then when they got inside the building, the wood floors told the story; it made its own music, and they had their hands to clap.

Pearlie Addison Whitten: My name is Pearly Addison Whitten. I'm a member of the Cuba Baptist Church where the Easter Rock first originated back in the day, and this Easter Rock is held every Saturday before Easter. And we would always get ready. We would even practice–my mother's kids would practice going around the house, and it seemed like we just got into it, you know? And got into the spirit, so by the time Saturday come we was ready to put on–the boys were ready to put on black pants and white shirts, and we were ready to put on our white skirts and white shirt.

Minister Tammy Lynch: I am Minister Tammy Lynch. I'm from the First Zion Baptist Church; I'm also from Winnsboro, Louisiana. If you believe in Jesus Christ, it's personal, it's spiritual, but it also shows forth our life in Him, and what it does, if you're born again, and, you know, and it's everywhere, you know? You can't hide, you can't hide it, because we are the light of the world, and what we do is hope that it will shine. That Jesus Christ's love will shine through us, and that's what it's all about. It's about the love of God in our hearts, and that’s just as simple as that. I can rock on top of a mountain if I can get up there. Amen. That’s just as simple as that.

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