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St. Mark's to celebrate Laurel's oldest festival [Old Town Laurel]

Laurel Leader

Laurel's oldest annual festival will be celebrated this year on Saturday, Sept. 2, with a 5k race, parade, food and music.

Emancipation Day, which commemorates the freeing of African American slaves, has been sponsored by St. Mark's United Methodist Church each year since the early 1900s.

The theme of this year's celebration is "Learn from Yesterday, Embrace Today, Rise Tomorrow." Faye Matthews, a member of St. Mark's who helps plan Emancipation Day, said church members wanted to honor the men and women who established St. Mark's 126 years ago and who built it into the community it is today.

"We asked ourselves, 'What can we do to keep the church and community vibrant and alive?' " Matthews said. "We want to perpetuate that legacy and bring the next generation along with us."

The day begins with the 5th annual 5k Run/Walk for Diabetes. The race starts at 8 a.m. at Sturgis-Moore Recreation Area at the corner of Eighth and Montgomery streets. It benefits the University of Maryland Center for Diabetes and Endocrinology. Registration is $25 and is available online at

Vendors and food will be available beginning at 10 a.m. at the church at 601 Eighth St. A parade featuring dancers, cars and various church ministries kicks off at on at the Laurel Municipal Center, 8103 Sandy Spring Road, and goes down Montgomery Street before ending at St. Mark's. Music and dance performances will begin after the parade at Emancipation Park and continue until dusk. A likely addition to the activities this year will be pony rides for children. It will be the first time in a couple of years that Emancipation Park itself, once the site of an historic school for black children, will host some of the festivities as it had been closed for renovations between April 2015 and November 2016.

Matthews invited the entire community to attend this year's Emancipation Day celebration.

"We hope just to have a fun day where everyone can come together, enjoy one another's company and support one another," she said.

After enjoying Emancipation Day, head over to Main Street to celebrate another Laurel landmark. "From Soda Fountain to Coffee Shop: Gavriles to Ragamuffins" is a free event sponsored by the Laurel Historical Society on Sept. 2 from 2 to 3 p.m. at 385 Main St.

That address, which now boasts Ragamuffins Coffee House, was home for nearly 80 years to Gavriles, a lunch counter, ice cream shop and soda fountain.

The LHS will provide Gavriles-related objects, articles and photos from its own collection to view. Guests at the event are encouraged to bring their own Gavriles memorabilia and memories to share while they explore how Main Street has evolved since the soda shop opened in 1910.

If you're looking for a way to observe a once-in-a-lifetime event — the solar eclipse to happen on Monday, Aug. 21 — the Laurel Branch Library has you covered. The library will host a solar eclipse viewing party that day from 1:30 to 4:30 p.m. There will be the opportunity to learn about eclipses, snag a free pair of glasses to safely view the eclipse and redeem final prizes from the summer reading program. The eclipse will begin in Laurel around 1:17 p.m., reach its maximum at 2:42 p.m. and end at 4:01 p.m.

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