Members of the NAACP and the community gathered Thursday to celebrate liberty and equality during the annual Emancipation Proclamation program, held at St. Mary Catholic Church.
While Jan. 1 is the first day of the New Year, it is also known as “Jubilee Day,” marking the anniversary of implementing Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation. As of Jan. 1, 1863, slaves in the states that were in rebellion “are, and henceforward shall be free.”
“Emancipation demonstrated our country’s belief in liberty and equality for every citizen,” said Ann Williamson, a Rock Hill city councilwoman and third vice president and political action chair of the Rock Hill chapter of the NAACP.
By remembering the proclamation, Williamson said people can reflect on the true meaning of the “liberty and justice for all” promised in the Pledge of Allegiance.
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Brother David Boone, perhaps the longest active member of the NAACP in Rock Hill, challenged those present to make the ideals of freedom a reality every day in 2015.
“May we continue to do all we can do to protect freedom,” Boone said.
This year’s officers of the NAACP chapter were formally installed including new president Susie Hinton, who is the second female president in the history of the chapter.
Hinton thanked the community and God for allowing her to have an opportunity to lead.
John Gist, a Rock Hill resident and NAACP supporter, said Hinton is the perfect woman to lead the organization.
“One of her gifts is to unify,” Gist said. “That takes a rare person.”
Kimberly Johnson, a childrens’ book author and motivational speaker, encouraged everyone to move forward with drive and purpose in a year “destined for disturbance.”
At the end of her speech, Johnson, recognized Clarence Graham, one of the “Friendship Nine,” who chose to go to jail instead of paying bail after they were arrested for sitting at a whites-only lunch counter in downtown Rock Hill in 1961.
Graham, as is typical for members of the Friendship Nine, spoke humbly and said he was only one of the larger group, that no single person deserves recognition for their bravery in standing strong in the face of inequality and injustice. He also encouraged everyone to keep the end of the month open in their calendars, to celebrate civil rights in Rock Hill.
Hinton said, “Rock Hill is about ready to truly rock.”
On Jan. 28 Solicitor Kevin Brackett will ask a York County judge to vacate the convictions of Graham and the other members of the Friendship Nine, declaring that the law itself was unjust, not the act the men committed by sitting at the counter.
Events such as the one planned on Jan. 28 and Thursday’s Emancipation Proclamation program are important to the community, said Bevin Hicklin, 16.
“The message was uplifting,” Hicklin said of the Emancipation Proclamation program. He said he knows all people are supposed to have freedom regardless of their race, but that he sometimes doesn’t feel it.
As a young black male, the Northwestern High School sophomore said he is sometimes scared when he walks outside alone or with friends because of how he might be treated by the police or members of the public.
Hicklin’s mother, Margie, is the youth and college division chair of Rock Hill’s NAACP chapter. The Hicklins went to Washington, D.C. in August 2013 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s famed march on the nation’s capital.
Several speakers during Thursday’s program said teaching children about the civil rights movement and about slavery is vital to building a better future.
“In order to know where we’re going, we have to know where we come from,” Gist said. “We can draw inspiration from that.”