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Community reflects on Emancipation Proclamation
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Pastors sing during the ceremony. - photo by Edith Anderson
There is something about noon on Jan. 1 that stirs the spirit in the African-American community. This date marks the annual celebration of the Emancipation Proclamation Observance.
As usual, this year people began arriving early and when the hour arrived, they were ready.
This event has been celebrated in Liberty County for many years. It is one of those celebrations the community will not let fade away.
What a celebration it was. Bishop Raymond Napper and the members of the Powerhouse of Deliverance Church hosted the event. "I'm free, I'm free, praise the Lord, I'm free," sang Bishop Raymond Napper, known as the "Holy Ghost Cowboy."
The Emancipation Proclamation Committee's theme for 2008 was "Remembering while reaching."
"As we celebrate the 145th anniversary of the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation, I am concerned that we have lost the desire and the ability to reach for the stars. When I see some of our brightest young minds content with 'just getting by,' I remember the dedication and enthusiasm of the children of Birmingham, Ala., who declared ;we ain't gonna let Bull Conner turn us around.' When I see parents failing to encourage their children to excel, I remember the newly emancipated Negroes who saved 'a dollar here and a half dollar there' so their children could get an education," Pastor Hermon Scott said.
Scott serves as the president of the observance committee and pastor of Baconton Missionary Baptist Church.
Byron Miller, a graduate of Liberty County High School and one of the 2007 recipients of Emancipation scholarship, read the proclamation.
State Rep. Billy Mitchell was introduced by Liberty County's Rep. Al Williams.
"I remember when I delivered the Emancipation Proclamation address at New Zion Baptist Church in 1966, shortly after graduating from high school," Williams said who introducing Mitchell."
"He is the epitome of what a state representative should be." Williams said.
Mitchell's powerful message captured the audience's attention. His message was taken from the books of Deuteronomy, Chapter 34, verse 9; and Joshua, Chapter 1, verses 1 - 5. His subject was "That was then, This is now."
"The Emancipation was a two part document. The first part was a preliminary announcement that announced the intent of what was to come; the second part was the actual document signed by Abraham Lincoln which declared all slaves would be permanently freed in all areas of the Confederacy which went into effect on Jan. 1, 1863," Mitchell said.
"I am grateful to see all the young folks. I have a message for you young folks. Moses is dead, but Joshua is alive. Our stalwart institution called the church is in danger of losing her power. I am a great supporter and beneficiary of the church. The church has done a mighty good work; the church has given us self esteem, self determination, and self help," he said.
"The church is the place where Phyllis Wheatley got her Muse; the place where Booker T. Washington got the courage to move up from slavery; it was the church which possessed W. E. Dubois to study the souls of black folks. The church gave Benjamin Elijah Mayes the inspiration to educate black men to light a candle and not curse the darkness."
He said that tradition is in danger, however.
"Urban poets called rappers carry more weight and power than any preacher, deacon, potentates, or politicians. We have to find a way to get our youth excited about our history, excited about our Emancipation."  
He said today's popular culture is not based in the church.
"But rappers' music like TI, Lil Kim, 50 Cent, Snoop Dog, Lil John, and Jay-Z did not come from the church," Mitchell said. "Corporations realized they could make money from these rappers. They signed them to contracts, and they use the "H" word, the "N" word and the "B" word in their music. This gangsta rap did not start in the church."  
He said the community should work to get religion back into people's lives.
"The church was the epicenter for all social and political activities. In order to remember while reaching, we must remember other people have gifts we don't have," he said. "In order to reach this generation, we must get busy in our church and make certain the church remains relevant."

Three Liberty Countians who have excelled in the community received the 2008 Emancipation Proclamation awards. Janee' Nealey, Mrs. Neloweze Cooper, and Nicole Hampton-Carter won the 2008 awards.
Nealey is a sophomore at Bradwell Institute, with a 3.6 grade point average. She is active in the community, school activities, and her church. She received the Youth Award and is a member of Pleasant Grove AME.
Cooper, a longtime community servant and director of the Riceboro Preschool, was recognized with one of the special awards. She is a retired educator and member of First Zion Baptist Church in Riceboro. Instead of presenting a plaque, members of the Emancipation Committee will have a luncheon for her so she can share her story.  
Hampton-Carter also received a special award. She is a teacher at Waldo Pafford Elementary and is Liberty County's District Teacher of the Year. She serves as editor of the school's newspaper and is a member of Baconton Missionary Baptist Church. 
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