SAVANNAH - In order for true emancipation to take hold, it requires the newly freed to contribute positively to society, oftentimes a society that witnessed that very same oppression.
The Rev. James E. Swanson Sr. told the packed congregation at St. Paul Christian Methodist Episcopal Church that the chains of oppressors have long since been removed. But the mental chains are still binding. In order to truly move forward in today's society, all its members must take personal responsibility for their actions and not fall back on tired excuses.
And the new year is the ideal time to start.
The Rev. Swanson was the keynote speaker for this year's Emancipation Proclamation Day Celebration. The program, sponsored by the Emancipation Proclamation Day Association, celebrates Jan. 1 the signing of the historic document by President Abraham Lincoln that declared slaves to be free.
While blacks have come a long way, there is more to be done, said the Rev. Frances Howell, pastor at Miller-Inner City United Methodist Church.
"Please, be patient," she said. "Not with our oppressors, but with our God. He's not through with us yet."
According to the National Archives and Records Administration, the law provided for immediate emancipation, compensation of up to $300 for each slave to loyal Unionist masters, voluntary colonization of former slaves to colonies outside the United States, and payments of up to $100 to each person choosing emigration.
But the signs of struggle were not to be found at St. Paul's Church on Monday morning. The St. Paul Youth and Young Adult Choir stirred parishioners with lively renditions of traditional gospel songs. Thought-provoking prayer services asked the Lord for guidance, strength and unity.
Mayor Floyd Adams Jr. was lauded for his work as the first black mayor in Savannah. He remarked that with freedom comes responsibility.
"Abraham Lincoln reluctantly freed the slaves in 1863 ... but I say in the time of the new millennium, it's time we freed ourselves of immorality and ignorance," he said.
Blacks are in a holding pattern, the Rev. Swanson said. People are suspended between what they have done and what they could do.
"You can't freeze; you can't stay in the middle," he said. "You can't choose an option not offered. You either move forward or get out of the way and let someone else move forward."
"Abraham Lincoln reluctantly freed the slaves in 1863 ... but I say in the time of the new millennium, it's time we freed ourselves of immorality and ignorance."- Savannah Mayor Floyd Adams Jr.