Originally created 01/02/01

Residents celebrate freedom



With voices booming and bodies swaying, hundreds of area preachers, teachers and politicians remembered the day that freedom became official for the country's enslaved.

The 138th Emancipation Day Celebration rocked Laney-Walker's Tabernacle Baptist Church on Monday afternoon as speakers and singers recognized Jan. 1, 1863, as the day President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation.

The keynote speaker, the Rev. Otis Moss III of Tabernacle Baptist, urged the full chapel to continue spearheading freedom by embracing change and reaching out to America's youth.

"We're sending eight-track messages in a CD world," the Rev. Moss said. "If you want to reach a new generation, you've got to change your methodology."

The event was sponsored by the Augusta Lincoln League, a group formed more than a century ago by a former slave. The modern-day group sponsors scholarships, presents business awards and organizes the annual celebration, at which clergy members, business leaders and politicians charge the community to eliminate racism and prejudice through a dedication to heritage and a responsibility to the church.

The Rev. Moss brought the church to its feet more than once during the passionate delivery of his message. He told the audience that continuing to facilitate freedom meant embracing diversity outside their suburban neighborhoods, joining support organizations both inside and outside the church and contributing to college scholarship programs.

"The church (used to be) the central location of everything," the Rev. Moss said. "But in the 21st century - we have pagers, cell phones and fax machines - we have everything we need, but we don't have the Lord.

"It's a destruction of the working class and the rise of the retail class. We've got to do something about it. If we are going to do a new thing in the new millennium, the church has got to find its purpose."

State Sen. Charles Walker said Monday marked his 30th year of attending the annual celebration. Other dignitaries spoke from the pulpit, including Paine College President Shirley A.R. Lewis, who reminded the audience that after the emancipation legislation, blacks were "forever free."

"Our challenge is to work collectively to do what is good for the community and the nation, because we are free," she said.

Augusta Mayor Pro Tem Willie Mays spoke on behalf of the city, saying local officials need the community's help to overcome prejudice in government.

"Power concedes nothing without struggle," Mr. Mays said. "We in the city of Augusta solicit your support, your constructive criticism, and most of all, your prayers. The struggle still goes on."

Reach Heidi Coryell at (706) 823-3215.