Liberation struggles – past and present – were recalled on New Year’s Day at the annual commemoration of the Emancipation Proclamation.
The Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Emancipation Association’s annual ceremony took place at St. Stephen Missionary Baptist Church on Jan. 1, the 151st anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s issuance of the proclamation that led to the end of slavery.
Noted attorney Michael Grace read Lincoln’s proclamation from the stately St. Stephen pulpit, while other speakers focused their remarks on more contemporary topics.
N.C. Sen. Earline Parmon decried what she calls the loss of hard fought liberties that are being eroded by new laws passed by the Republican-controlled General Assembly. She railed against the legislature’s refusal to expand Medicaid to include 500,000 poor and uninsured adults as part of the Affordable Care Act, more restrictive voting policies and the “dismantling of public education.”
“We can’t sit silently and be a part of a government that’s denying all of the rights insured by our constitution,” she said.
N.C. Rep. Ed Hanes voiced similar concerns. He said state residents should mobilize instead of complain.
“True democracy is currently incompatible with the ever greater concentration of wealth and the growth of social inequality,” said Hanes. “This does not mean that it was correct to draw the conclusion that the Emancipation was a meaningless gesture; rather, it signifies that a struggle for equality continues, that the struggle must be taken to deeper and more fundamental levels in our community.”
Mayor Allen Joines called for support for the efforts of Hanes, Parmon and other Democrats in Raleigh, all of whom are up for reelection in November.
“We need to be courageous in helping folks down there because there are attacks right now on our ability to vote; there are attacks on folks who need Medicaid; there are attacks on folks who are unemployed and are seeing their benefits slashed,” said Joines.
Keynote speaker Rev. James Cook, St. Stephen’s pastor, focused on liberation. He said that while Lincoln’s proclamation is worth celebrating, the struggles for freedom continued with the Jim Crow era and beyond. Liberation can’t simply be proclaimed, he said.
“True liberation takes place in your heart; true liberation takes place in your mind when we understand all of us serve the same God,” Cook preached.
He said humans were created by God to be liberators and that Civil Rights icons like Martin Luther King Jr., Medgar Evers and Rosa Parks were fulfilling a divine purpose.
“Rosa Parks didn’t have to check with anybody; she knew who she was, knew that she was created in the … image of God,” he said.
As is tradition, scholarships were presented during the service. This year, there were so many deserving applicants, that an unusually high eight students received $100 scholarships and six students took home $500 awards. The top honors, the $1,000 Emancipation Association Scholarships, went to Herbert Liles and Shaunetta Campbell.
Liles, a Carver High School senior who plans to attend Hampton University or Morehouse College in Georgia to major in computer science, has applied for several scholarships. The one from the Emancipation Association is the first he has received.
“One done, more to go hopefully,” he said.
Campbell attends Atkins. She plans to major in biology, chemistry or double major in both at a college she has yet to choose. Campbell wants to be a pharmacist or physician’s assistant.
The scholarship fund got a jump start for next year’s awards, thanks to a $2,500 gift from the family of the late Judge Roland Hayes, who served on the Emancipation Association Board. His widow, Barbara, is still a board member. Attendees at last week’s service matched the Hayes family’s gift with their contributions.
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