There are folks around Texas who remember fondly the Athens Black-eyed Pea Jamboree.

In fact, you may occasionally run into a person who thinks the event is still a mid-summer blow-out in the city. But the Black-eyed Pea Festival which began in 1971 has been gone for years in its original form.

Athens Mayor Jerry Don Vaught wants to bring it back. He said as much at the Monday city council meeting when Athens Chamber of Commerce President Mike Coston came to report on coming events.

“What used to make Athens great is when we had the Black-eyed Pea Festival,” Vaught said. “What makes a city great is festivals, because you get people from other towns in to see your city.”

Coston said the chamber is interested in events that bring visitors to Athens for a day, but even more interested in “heads in beds,” those who stay overnight.

“I don't mind trying to get that Black-eyed Pea Festival going again,” Coston said. “It puts our name on the map and that's what I'm all about.”

At its peak, the Black-eyed Pea Jamboree was a weekend affair, with activities on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

Pea shucking, terrapin racing, watermelon eating, beauty contests, concerts and carnival rides were all part of the fun.

In its heyday, the Black-eyed Pea Jamboree attracted a lot of attention from around East Texas, but was also a favorite getaway for people in the Metroplex who'd make the hour-or-so drive down.

The first festival in 1971 featured a Black-eyed Pea Dinner with Lt. Governor Ben Barnes as the speaker.

“I do hope this jamboree becomes nation-wide and that the recognition you will receive will help you progress,” Barnes told the crowd at the National Guard Armory.

The Jamboree got plenty of attention from Dallas media in the early days, whether it was air personalities who came to town to cover the events or to help judge the annual cook-off. Judges for the cook-off finals included Julie Bunnell, who was food editor for the Dallas Morning News and had a cooking show on WFAA TV, Dallas Morning News columnist Frank X. Tolbert and Wick Fowler, known for his award winning chili.

Vaught wants to see out-of-towners making Athens a point of destination. With its history, resurrecting the BEP seems worth exploring.

“We have to have as much as we can to bring people back here to love this town as we love it,” Vaught said.

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