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Celebrating powerful history
Emancipation Proclamation service draws crowd
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Greater Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Pastor Stephen Lee serves as the speaker for the ceremony. - photo by Marguerite West/Media on the Move LLC

Jan. 1, 2012, marked the 149th year since President Abraham Lincoln’s historic Emancipation Proclamation became effective. 

Because New Year’s Day fell on a Sunday, Liberty County’s usual Jan. 1 observance day celebration was held at noon Monday, Jan. 2. The change in date, however, did not diminish the size of the crowd.

Service attendees packed Baconton Missionary Baptist Church in Walthourville, where the Rev. Crystal Ball, one of Baconton’s associate ministers, served as the worship leader. The church’s youth choir provided special music.

Baconton Missionary Baptist Church Pastor Dr. Hermon Scott, who also is president of the Liberty County Emancipation Proclamation Observance Day Committee, expressed his appreciation for the community’s continued support of the Emancipation program. This year’s theme was “Taking Charge of Your Destiny.” 

“We have come a long way in the 149 years since President Lincoln signed this historic document,” Scott said. “The words of our theme scripture, Joshua 13:1, have never been more applicable than they are today.

“We have much more to do. I am happy to celebrate today, but I am concerned we still have children who go to bed hungry in a country that boasts of being the most productive in the world. There is more land to possess. I am happy to celebrate today, but I am concerned that less than 1 percent of our population controls 99 percent of the wealth. There is more land to possess. I am happy to celebrate today, but I am concerned that we are hiring more police and prison guards while furloughing teachers. There is more land to possess.”

Greater Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Pastor Stephen Lee also spoke during the ceremony. Lee is a member of the Metropolitan Interdenominational Church Technical Assistance Network organization, which works to heighten HIV/AIDS awareness in the African-American community. He also has facilitated small group discussions with Meharry Medical College’s Center for AIDS Research regarding the impact of HIV/AIDS in local communities.

“I am truly humbled by this invitation. It is a good thing to be asked to preach the annual sermon at the  Methodist conference, but when people outside your denomination find something in you and ask you to come back and speak on such a day as this, I am truly humbled,” Lee said. “I had a lot of firsts in Liberty County. It was my first pastorate, and Rev. B. T. Smith allowed me to run my first revival.”

Lee kept the audience’s attention as he recited Joshua 13:1 and Philippians 3:12 and then elaborated on the scripture passages. 

“Allow me to paint a picture of a contemporary Joshua having a talk with God on this day as we celebrate the Emancipation. I believe there are two reasons why God chose Joshua to be Moses’ successor,” he said. “When the Israelites left Egypt, Joshua was about 40 years old. Joshua had seen the miracles God had done. No one had to teach him about them — he saw them. Joshua had a faith and trust in what God was able to do. When he was sent out to spy the land, he came back with a good report.

“Given Joshua’s age and how long he had been in Egypt, he probably had some training in Pharaoh’s army. When Moses, the organizer, died, God needed a military conqueror. God always gives us what we need at the time. The people had to be reconditioned prior to going into the promised land. As they got ready to enter the promised land, they didn’t need an organizer; they needed someone to teach them how to fight. The people had been conditioned to the Egyptians’ ways, but it was time for them to be reprogrammed. There is a time to be organized and there is a time to fight. God understood they needed someone who could lead them into an area that Moses was not quite equipped to do,” Lee said.

“The scripture in Joshua 13:1 said we have done much, but there is still much to be done. In spite of everything we have accomplished, we still have much to do. … We must train out children and let them know that it was no one but God who brought us this far. We must train another Joshua generation. We must let them know that if it had not been for the Lord on our side, we would not be here. We are where we are today because of someone else’s foundation, and that foundation was laid because of someone else’s sacrifice. Our hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness. Are we there yet? No, not by a long shot,” Lee said.

Three Liberty County outstanding residents received president’s awards for their years of dedicated and faithful service to the community. Dorothy Brunson, who is 102 years old and a member of First Zion Baptist Church in  Riceboro, the Rev. Ollie Howard, associate minister at St. Peter’s AME Church in Midway, and Deacon Willie J. McIver of New Zion Baptist Church in Riceboro proudly accepted their accolades.

According to organizers, plans already are under way for the historic 150-year celebration of the Emancipation Proclamation on Jan. 1, 2013. Next year’s service will be held at the oldest black church in Liberty Country, the historical First African Baptist Church in Riceboro.

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