An Atlanta preacher borrowed Monday from Augusta's most famous singer, telling hundreds celebrating the 143rd anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation, "I feel good."
"Not because I've embraced a religion of escapism, but because I serve a mighty God. That God has brought us a long way," the Rev. Raphael Warnock, the senior pastor of Atlanta's Ebenezer Baptist Church, told those at Tabernacle Baptist Church.
In a politically charged glance at history, he outlined examples from Jim Crow laws to the current Bush administration - each time met by chants of "God brought us through."
"Even in an uncertain future, we know one thing: If God is with us, we shall be free," the keynote speaker went on to say.
The service, organized by the Augusta Lincoln League, has become a traditional way to "start the year on a spiritual high," according to the service group's president, the Rev. Ethoin Rowe.
Signed Jan. 1, 1863, the Emancipation Proclamation declared freedom for black slaves in Confederate states.
It was not until December 1865, though, that slavery was put to an end with the 13th Amendment.
Now, almost a century and a half later, the Rev. Warnock said blacks' civil liberties are again in danger because of the government's use of surveillance without court orders and the Voter ID law, which he said is being used in the same discriminatory way that literacy tests once were to keep blacks away from the polls.
"There are great challenges in front of us, but we ought to believe in ourselves and believe in our abilities to save this nation as we have done so many times before," he said. "Hold on to the faith, because we've come this far by faith, haven't we?"
Also during the event, Willie Mays, who had served as Augusta's interim mayor until his Dec. 6 defeat, was honored as Citizen of the Year.
"I'm saying something I shouldn't be saying, but he's the man that should be mayor right now," the Rev. Rowe noted in handing over the award.
Another speaker from the pulpit, state Rep. Quincy Murphy, told the congregation that generations after the War Between the States, the country is still engaged in civil war - this time between the haves and the have-nots and the Democrats and Republicans.
"The challenge of the 20th century was color; It's still color - green," the legislator said. "It's time to come together and embrace a new spirit of community and collaboration."
Reach Dena Levitz at (706) 823-3339 or firstname.lastname@example.org.