By Tony McCray
The Pensacola/Escambia County Emancipation Day and Black History Committee kicked off the New Year, once again, with its 153nd Celebration Program of the Emancipation Proclamation being signed by President Abraham Lincoln. The New Year’s Day program was held in the sanctuary of the Sixth Avenue Missionary Baptist Church. Rev. Isaac Williams, Pastor of Greater True Vine Missionary Baptist Church served as the presiding emcee of the program which was very well attended by local ministers and several church congregations.
Rev. Michael J. Johnson, the Pastor of Sixth Avenue Missionary Baptist Church brought greetings to those attending the program followed by the Chairperson of the Scholarship Committee, Donna Woodard, who brought the Occasion with the veracity of a fiery minister. Woodard made it a point to challenge the priorities of the African-American community when she exclaimed “A charge to keep I have because with the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation, I can’t help but believe there came some responsibility with this new found freedom”. She then asked the audience a strategic question, “How many young Black males have been murdered in Pensacola and how many young Black males were the perpetrators of those crimes? We can name murder victims in Chicago and New York (by the police) before we can ‘t name one here locally!” A heartfelt challenge came in the form of another question, “How do we keep the charge in order to serve the present age so that we can live a life that we can gladly give an account of before the Lord, we have to ask”? She received a standing ovation.
Next on the program’s agenda, Miss Tatiyana Stallworth, Pensacola High School student, represented the youth in her presentation of the actual Emancipation Proclamation legislation passed by the Congress and signed by President Abraham Lincoln on January 1, 1863.
However, the celebration speaker was yet to come as Darnell Sims of Houser Memorial AME Zion Church introduced his Pastor, the Rev. Michael Evans, as the guest speaker. Reverend Evans began with a slow and methodical presentation on the theme, “Where Do We Go From Here”? Rev. Evans continued to ask the question, “To what place? To what direction? To what point? To what position”? He described an environment where Black ministers took to the pulpit and the abolitionists continued their fight after the Emancipation Proclamation legislation was signed.
He preached that there was nothing civil about the Civil War, and from that point on he called it the “uncivil war”! Rev. Evans went on to preach that Lincoln was pushed and cajoled to sign the Emancipation Proclamation and that after the signing the fight was still on! In fact, he stated, “It was the 13th amendment that actually freed the slaves”! He continued, “Raise your voices! At a time when the confederate flags are coming down, we must raise our voices and we must trust in God”.
Now that Rev. Evans had brought the proud fighting spirit of the Black church’s role in the history of the African-American struggle for Freedom and achievement into the Sixth Avenue Baptist Church sanctuary, the Kwanzaa Committee made their sacred presentation of the African-American ritual of the seven African principles. The presentation was made by Cassandra McAway, and Cheryl Allen. McAway stated, “If we would only learn whose we are. Knowledge is valuable. There is so much in the seven principles, that it is mind blowing”!
Following the Kwanzaa Committee presentation the Pensacola Branch NAACP President, Mrs. Eladies Sampson, spoke to the role of the NAACP over the past 106 years and how much the civil rights organization is needed today. She passed the microphone to the Pensacola Branch’s First Vice President, Minister Alvis Collins, as if she was passing the baton onto the younger generation that would raise the local branch to another level of achievement.
One of the main purposes of the Emancipation Day Black History national committee is the awarding of scholarships to students attending college. Applications are submitted through area churches. This year’s outstanding student recipient is Gordan Watkins, the son of Ron and Anesia Watkins, who are members of Bethel AME church at 521 Woodlawn Drive.