SOCIAL SPOTLIGHT: Coming Home

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Former residents of Royal will return to the small community for a weekend of fun and fellowship.


STORY: James Combs PHOTOS: Provided

There’s no place like home.

That’s certainly true for Cliff Hughes. He was raised in the small Sumter County town of Royal, which was founded in 1865 by former slaves and is one of Florida’s oldest African-American communities.

He has fond childhood memories and recalls the strong bond between family, neighbors, and friends.

“Growing up in Royal was a great experience for me. The folks taught me how to stand up and be a man and become good at different types of work. In those days, if somebody saw you doing something wrong, your family would know about it and dealt with you accordingly. It was a community raising a community.”

Royal-Celebration-0614-003After graduating from Wildwood High School in 1981, Cliff spent three years in the U.S. Army serving in Germany and Fort Campbell, Kentucky. He moved back to Royal after landing a job with the Florida Department of Corrections. In 2003, he moved to Georgia, only to return to Royal four years later. He has lived there ever since.

Like Cliff, many who were raised in Royal moved to other parts of the country. But most will always cherish and embrace the small community they call home.

That will be evident during the Royal Homecoming, June 13–15. New friends will be made and old stories shared as 3,500 to 5,000 visitors descend upon the community for three days of laughter, smiles, hugs, and memories. Some attendees will be family members of former slaves who founded Royal and are returning to celebrate history, freedom, and faith. Others are curious visitors who heard about Royal and desire to learn more.

“Many people left Royal to attend college, join the military, or accept a job elsewhere,” Cliff says. “Those things were great accomplishments because they bettered themselves in life. However, it is great to see them come home during this weekend. Many will have family reunions during this weekend. It’s such an exciting time for our community.”

A ‘royal’ celebration

Royal Homecoming has it all, from family and friends sitting in lawn chairs reminiscing about old times to the pleasant smell of barbecue wafting through the community.

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The event kicks off Friday night with a fish fry. On Saturday at 10a.m., children, parents, great-grandparents, siblings, aunts, and uncles will line the roads to enjoy the ever-popular parade. A volunteer fire truck will lead the three-mile procession, which will include decorative cars and trucks, as well as representatives from local businesses and organizations. In addition, individuals will ride on horseback and portray the Buffalo Soldiers, the famed African-American cavalry from the late 1800s. Following the parade, family and friends will gather in the park for a friendly game of kickball.

Royal-Celebration-0614-002A Sunday morning church service at New Life Center Ministries is one of the highlights of the event. The service is a celebration filled with gospel music, praise dancing, fellowship, and faith. Later that day, a car show and live entertainment will be held at the corner of County Road 235 and County Road 222.

“It’s a fun weekend,” Cliff says. “Some people enjoy camaraderie and fellowship, some people dance, and some people simply check out the scenery.”

Community spirit

Certainly, Cliff is a wonderful steward of the community. As chairman of the Community of Royal Corporation, he organizes Mother’s Day dinners, Christmas gatherings, and barbecues. He also helps maintain a community garden and provides food to Royal’s elder population.

“It is important to show them appreciation for everything they’ve done for Royal,” he says. “Things have changed in Royal over the years, but we still remain a family-oriented community.”

And Royal will always remain a special place Cliff is proud to call home.

For more information about the event, visit communityofroyal.org.

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