Annual service will spotlight 150th anniversary of Emancipation Proclamation
A celebration of history will be making a little history of its own.
New Year’s Day, Jan. 1, will mark the 150th anniversary of the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation, and as has been its tradition for the last 50 years, the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Emancipation Association will commemorate the signing of the historic document – which gave slaves their freedom – with a free public observance, this year at Bethlehem Missionary Baptist Church, 1711 N. Claremont Ave. at 11 a.m.
State Rep.-elect Evelyn Terry is adding to that tradition this year. In lieu of a typical Raleigh swearing-in ceremony, she will take the oath during the Emancipation Association’s program, which will also feature a sermon, a reading of President Lincoln’s proclamation and the presentation of scholarships to college-bound teens.
Democrat Terry, who will succeed Larry Womble as the 71st District’s representative in the General Assembly, said she couldn’t think of a better place to be formally installed.
“It is absolutely fitting and appropriate for the (great granddaughter) of former slaves,” said Terry. “I can just see my relatives smiling down from heaven.”
Terry, who was elected this year, discovered that she had the option of being sworn-in in her district while attending an orientation for new legislators earlier this month. Traditionally, new members take the oath during a mass ceremony at the General Assembly on the first day of the legislative session, which is Jan. 8. Taking the oath locally will eliminate the headache of travel and finding parking near the General Assembly, Terry said, and give her the chance to enjoy the moment with those who voted for her to serve.
“It’s somewhat humbling to be perfectly honest, ” she said. “The reality of the significance to be able to do it the day Winston-Salem Emancipation Association is giving scholarships to young people who are so deserving of a higher education and thanking God and reading that proclamation that provided a document for liberating us out of slavery, I can’t tell you how important that is to me.”
She’ll be sworn in by Judge Denise Hartsfield, one of Terry’s fellow Delta Sigma Theta sorors. Many elected officials bring greetings during the Emancipation Assosication service. Speakers at next week’s service will include Mayor Allen Joines and State Sen.-elect Earline Parmon. Bethlehem Pastor Dwight Hash will deliver the keynote address. Emancipation Association President Josephine Jones is proud that the annual service has received such a great deal of support over the decades and that she and the other dedicated members of the Association have been able to educate the local community about the importance of the document.
“(The service is for the public) to understand and to learn more about what the Proclamation is all about,” she said.
Because of its 150th birthday, the Emancipation Proclamation is getting more attention than usual and that is how it should be, according to Cheryl Harry, director of African American programming at Old Salem Museums and Gardens.
Harry hopes that churches will take time to acknowledge the Proclamation during their Watch Night services on New Year’s Eve by reading the document, handing out copies of it and the 13th Amendment (which inserted a ban of slavery into the Constitution) or by simply mentioning its importance and connection to Watch Night services. Harry says few know that Watch Night services became popular in black churches after New Year’s Eve 1862 – what became known as Freedom’s Eve – as slaves gathered in churches around the country, waiting for their freedom on Jan. 1, 1863.
Old Salem is sponsoring a bus trip in May to the N.C. Museum of History, which will be displaying a 1862 preliminary copy of the Emancipation Proclamation from May 15 – June 15. The document is currently hanging on the Oval Office of the White House. Emancipation Proclamation commemorations will continue into the new year. Local Juneteenth 2013 activities will focus heavily on the 150th anniversary and in October 2013, the state’s Civil War Sesquicentennial Committee will hold a symposium at Wake Forest University focusing on emancipation entitled, “Lay My Burden Down: Freedom and Legacies of the Civil War.” Old Salem, Wake Forest, Winston-Salem State University and the N.C. Office of Archives and History will sponsor the event. States who lost residents in the Civil War have set-up sesquicentennial committees to host a series of events that will culminate in 2015 – the 150th anniversary of the end of the war.
“It was a turning point in history,” Harry said of the Emancipation Proclamation. “The fight to save the Union, to keep the Union together, became the fight to end slavery. It was a really pivotal point in our history.”
For information about the N.C. Civil War Sesquicentennial Committee, go to www.nccivilwar150.com.