Election made U.S. 'a little bit freer'

For years, many have gathered at Augusta's Tabernacle Baptist Church to celebrate the anniversary of an Emancipation Proclamation executive order issued by President Abraham Lincoln on Jan. 1, 1863.

This year, they had something more to celebrate.

Many of the speakers at Augusta's 146th Emancipation Day Celebration spoke of the November victory of Barack Obama, the first black person to be elected president.

The Rev. Clarence Grier, the president of the Baptist Ministers Conference of Augusta, gave one of the greetings to the full sanctuary and spoke of the need to work to change the community and the country for the better.

"We cannot sit by and expect President-elect Obama to do it all," the Rev. Grier said . "We've got to do our share as well."

State Rep. Wayne Howard, of House District 121, also shared political insights, comparing the recent election to Lincoln's issue of the Emancipation Proclamation.

"Now we feel a little bit freer, because on Nov. 4, 2008, the people signed an Emancipation Proclamation and we passed it on to our president," Mr. Howard said.

Dr. Charles J. Smith Sr., president of the Augusta Branch of the NAACP, gave a brief synopsis of the history of the Emancipation Proclamation. Dr. Smith spoke about how freed slaves would later organize leagues named after President Lincoln as a means of honoring him. The Augusta Lincoln League, the sponsor of the Emancipation Day Celebration, is one of those.

Later in the celebration, Dr. Smith was honored as the 2009 Augusta Lincoln League Citizen of the Year.

According to the Rev. Ethoin Rowe, president of the Augusta Lincoln League, the group is a public service organization that seeks to assist students pursuing post-secondary education who are committed to bringing about change in their communities.

"We combine history with making history, and getting young people to strive to go higher and obtain a good, solid education," he said.

The Rev. Rowe said the league offers applications for assistance at the end of the Emancipation Day Celebration every year. He said the group does this so applicants will have a chance to learn what the celebration is all about.

The Rev. Michael Clayton Harris, pastor of Acts of Faith Baptist Church in Atlanta, was the featured speaker, delivering a message based on Psalm 23.

Reach Jonathan Overstreet at (706) 823-3708 or jonathan.overstreet@augustachronicle.com.