Three Liberty County residents were recognized for their service to the community during the Emancipation Proclamation Day Observance Program on Friday at Community Missionary Baptist Church in Midway.
- Gary Gilliard, the Liberty County commissioner for the 5th District and president and CEO of Seven Ministries, and his group received the Willie J. McIver Humanitarian Award.
- Mariyah Carter, a fourth-grader at Taylors Creek Elementary School who saved the life of a fellow classmate, received the Youth Award.
- Mother Rosa Pearl Duncan of Baconton Missionary Baptist Church, who is noted for her service to mankind, pearls of wisdom and knowledge, along with a melodious singing voice, received the President’s Award.
Miriam Madison, a current student at the University of North Carolina and a 2015 Liberty County Emancipation Proclamation Scholarship recipient, read the Emancipation Proclamation.
“It is because of your financial support that we are able to award scholarships to deserving high school seniors,” said the Rev. Hermon Scott, pastor of Baconton Missionary Baptist Church. “Last year, we awarded eight $500 scholarships.”
Some traditions have fallen by the wayside, but the Emancipation Proclamation Observance Day Program continues to be an important part of Liberty County’s history.
The program began years ago at the Crossroads community near Riceboro.
“There are some traditions we must continue,” said the Rev. Dr. Hermon Scott, who serves as president of the Liberty County Emancipation Proclamation Observance Day Committee. He also is pastor of Baconton Missionary Baptist Church and moderator of the Zion Baptist Association.
The time-honored tradition happens at noon every Jan. 1, and people from across Liberty County come together to remember. Seniors such as the Rev. Ollie Howard, Deacon John Barnard, Mother Louise Lovett and Elder Henry Frasier are regular attendees.
Community Missionary Baptist Church in Midway hosted this year’s celebration. The Rev. Dr. Stanley Brown is pastor and served as the program’s worship leader. The Rev. Dr. Alvin Jackson, pastor of St. Luke Baptist Church in Hinesville and a retired educator with the Liberty County School System, was the guest speaker. His church’s choir performed.
The theme of the 2016 Emancipation Proclamation service was, “Standing Firm in Tough Times.”
“A review of American history will reveal that at the time of the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation, America was in the midst of tough times. We were a house divided, and at the very core of the fight was the very real question of human dignity, value and respect,” Scott said. “Now, 153 years later, police brutality, church shootings and home-grown terrorists, coupled with threats from international terrorists, remind us that we are standing in tough times.
“I will readily admit that some of our tough times are promoted by forces outside of our community that seem determined to ignore our dignity and our value, and often offer little or no respect,” he continued. “I must also call on our community to face tough times by encouraging self-respect, self-value and self-dignity.”
“I am excited to have the opportunity of a lifetime,” Jackson said.
He quoted Galatians 5:1, which says, “Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage.”
“On Jan. 1, 1863, 153 years ago, over 4 million slaves held in Confederate states who were in rebellion, who would not return to the Union, were emancipated — given their freedom,” Jackson said. “Now, 153 years later, we gather in this place to reflect, remember and to remind others of that great day.”
Jackson said that while the Emancipation Proclamation is considered one of President Abraham Lincoln’s most important acts, “it was simply a military strategy to get those states in rebellion to rejoin the Union.” Jackson noted that all slaves were not freed until 1865, when the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution passed.
“In this day in time when we ought to be making progress, it appears we are digressing,” Jackson said. “Our basic rights that our ancestors fought for seem to be threatened by today’s society. New requirements to vote have made it difficult for many to vote.
“We must stand together to fight for justice and equality,” he continued. “It is true that united we stand, divided we fall. We must stand firm in these tough times, and we must stand together. I’m convinced today that our advancement over the years has made us complacent. Because we have won a few battles, we have gone into retirement — much like the rich fool in the Bible.”
Jackson said the church in Galatia was facing a similar situation, “about to become entangled again with the yoke of bondage.”
“There are still folks fighting to bring segregation back,” he said. “There are those who believe that we are not capable of holding important positions. Some are saying we don’t need affirmative action any more. We are living in tough times where we have to fight to hold on to the gains we have made.”
Jackson said freedom comes with a price.
“The freedom we enjoy today cost some lives,” he said. “Many fought that we might get a quality education. Many fought that we might have the right to vote. Many fought and died so that we can be treated better than second-class citizens.”
Jackson referenced today’s political climate, saying that Congress is “unwilling to work with our president and are more motivated to destroy him than help run this country.” He also questioned the motivates of presidential candidates “talking about taking our country back.”
“Who are we taking it back from, and where are we taking it back to?” he asked. “Why do I need to go back when the unemployment rate is down? Why do I need to go back when millions of people who could not afford health care now have health care? Why do I need to go back when the economy is more stable than it was seven year ago? Why do I need to go back when our banking system and our auto industry are thriving? What I need to do is stand firm in these troubled times.”