The local group of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People rang in 2014 like they have every year — with a noontime service to celebrate progress on the anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation.
It was part of the Rock Hill NAACP chapter’s Jubilee Day, held Wednesday at New Covenant Missionary Baptist Church on Hampton Street.
The Emancipation Proclamation was an executive order drafted by President Abraham Lincoln that took effect on Jan. 1, 1863. The order freed more than 3 million slaves in 10 Confederate states, including South Carolina, in the midst of the Civil War.
What it did not do, said W.E. Garrison, was outlaw slavery, guarantee equality, or free another million slaves that remained in the north.
“The freedom promised is dependent on union victory,” Garrison explained to the audience. “Emancipation Proclamation didn’t end slavery, but it did give them hope.”
Garrison, the pastor of the host church and celebration speaker, also noted that the ongoing path for equality following emancipation was harsh, leaving slaves “destitute and penniless.” Many slaves working on southern plantations fled north for work or became sharecroppers.
The news about the proclamation’s formal order on New Year’s Day in 1863 later became known as Jubilee Day, to reflect the jubilation of abolitionists and freedmen in the north. It would take the end of the civil war in 1865 until all slaves were freed by the Union army.
Lincoln’s famous Gettysburg address, delivered in November 1863 at a national cemetery in Pennsylvania, was also recited verbatim.
Ann Williamson-Morrison, who emceed the event as a vice president of the local chapter, said Jubilee Day is a reminder to continue progress towards true equality.
“We realize the work is not done,” she said. “The vineyard is plentiful, but the labor is a few.”
Williamson-Morrison, a former flight attendant and teacher, is starting her term as councilwoman representing Ward 5 on the Rock Hill City Council later this month. For her, the event is about drawing local youth to join the NAACP ranks — not just black youth, but anyone who is committed to the advancement of civil rights, she said.
Brother David Boone said events like Jubilee Day are essential to fostering unity at a time when social and other forms of segregation continue to exist.
Boone, who is white, said his more than 50 years of experience working closely with the black community of southern Rock Hill as a former administrator at St. Mary’s Catholic Church has made him empathetic to the ongoing struggle for equality.
NAACP President Melvin Poole reiterated the need for residents to get involved, encouraging them to register to vote and take part in this year’s elections, which will feature several key statewide races.
“Our vote is the only leverage we have to change things,” Poole said. He also encouraged folks to take part locally in the search to find the next Rock Hill school superintendent.
Poole said the annual tradition of Jubilee Day is the perfect way to “recharge” and prepare for a new year with new challenges, while appealing to local youth since chapter members are getting older.