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Freeing of slaves commemorated

Obama election adds to annual service

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POSTED: January 7, 2009 8:50 a.m.
Photo by Marguerite West/

Sylvester Harris, who received the Emancipation Special Award, stands with Lana Walthour, left, Yvonne Wood and the Rev. Hermon Scott, right.

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Exactly 146 years after Pres. Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation went into effect, ancestors of slaves it freed came together to celebrate.
And this year’s Liberty County celebration Jan. 1 at Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church noted that with freedom and the right to vote, many of them had helped elect the country’s first African-American president, Barack Obama last year.
From the moment the program began with the processional of ministers, elected and appointed officials, and the honorees to the ending song of “We Shall Overcome,”  the audience beamed with excitement. The Rev. Richie Williams, Bethel’s pastor, presided. A combined choir of youth from throughout Liberty County sang under the direction of Odessa Williams.
“Today we cannot help but remember the stony roads of slavery and the bitter chastening rod of Jim Crow. We come today remembering that dismal day in March on the Edmund Petus Bridge and those hot days in Birmingham, Ala., when hope unborn seemed to have died,” said the Rev. Hermon Scott, president of the Emancipation Committee.
“We come today to remember the unsung heroes who walked behind the big names and in spite of the hardship kept hope alive. We have come today to celebrate all of those who kept a steady beat and today stand ready to walk in the place for which our fathers sighed,” he said.
Dr. James L. Evans, a Liberty County native and the keynote speaker, kept the audience spellbound with his well researched and inspiring message. Focusing on President-elect Obama’s campaign theme (“It Time for a Change”) and taken from II Corinthians 4:7-9, his topic was “A Dream No More  A Change Has Come.”
“When Obama mania caught fire, it took America like the wild fire of California, consuming everything in its path. The Obama phenomenon had nothing to do with color of skin and everything to do with the need for change. Yet, from the African-American perspective, this change was long overdue.
“I shared with my Bible Study group the night after the election that not too long ago, hope and faith in a Mighty God was all we had to lean upon. The tenacity of an oppressed black people could not be snuffed out by Jim Crow laws. From 1876 to the 1960s, the story of survival is one of great courage by African-Americans. It was a daily battle for one’s life, self-respect, and basic civil rights…”
“As a result of the 2008 election, America is going to be put to the test. It may be our shining moment now, and we should celebrate with great pride because we earned that privilege. However, we must never forget the struggles, the deaths, the humiliations, the beatings, the cross burnings and black church burnings, and so on…” Evans said.
He recognized civil rights warriors, ranging from Mary McLeod Bethune to Malcom X and cited the names of local civil right leaders who gave their time and service so African-American could have a better life. They include Ralph Quarterman (first president of the Liberty County Branch of NAACP), Rev. W.C. Shipman (first card carrying member of the NAACP), Abraham Mullins (who sued to desegregate Liberty County schools), Rev. Evans B. Cooper (NAACP president)  and Rev. Willie Anderson and Earl Baggs (county commissioners).  
He also noted leaders such as 98-year-old Mary Baggs and state Rep. Al Williams, who orchestrated and led a march from the old Liberty County High School to the courthouse in Hinesville.
“These people worked hard because it was time for a change. We praise God for these great civil right leaders.”
“Honorable state Rep. (Al) Williams, continue wearing ‘the mantle well’ —  thank you for still fighting for our rights as African-American citizens, as well as all citizens of the state of Georgia. We thank God for you and the work you do.”
 

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