"The Proclamation freed the slaves in the Confederate States of America," said Ken Reaves, president of the Emancipation Proclamation Committee of Bartow County, the group that is presenting the gathering. "Though it was signed 148 years ago, and there have been many great advances in the American community for all citizens, many challenges still face people of all ethnic backgrounds. ... The theme this year is 'Ashamed of, or inspired by your history.'
"We hope that a brief look back to the difficulties faced by African-Americans in the early history of our country will inspire all people to the grand possibilities and opportunities the United States still offers to its citizens. History should be used to not only educate the mind of past events but, more importantly, give us the impetus to continually improve the American community."
As a member of the Emancipation Proclamation Committee of Bartow County, Nancy Beasley also believes it is important to highlight the proclamation, hoping it will enlighten and inspire the younger generation.
"We've [organized this] observance of the freeing of the slaves so that some things can be implanted in their minds to know that we've not always had the kinds of experiences that we have today," Beasley said. "We've not always been able to vote. ... Sometimes we don't know our history. Most cultures know their history.
"So we're just interested in keeping history alive, but not using it to serve any anger, but to know that we have come this far because of the people, like in our community the late Rev. Kay, Rev. Hudson and Dr. W.R. Moore ... and Miss Anena Copeland, who were people who were interested in keeping this history alive. So for that reason we've continued. And [the committee is] not about just remembering. We have a mentor award each year and we have a scholarship award so that we can encourage our youth to continue their education."
A Cartersville native, Beasley graduated high school from Summer Hill in 1945 and, following college, returned to work in the Cartersville School System for 36 years.
"I'm a retired teacher and I'm 83 now," she said. "I've seen a lot of changes. I can remember when the signs were over the water fountains -- 'colored.' That has changed. I can remember on the Fourth of July when we were growing up, they would have the parade downtown and black people had to stand on one side of the street and white people on the other side. But [following the parade] there was a water battle each year between whites and blacks with the water hoses. And whoever would surrender first [would] be considered the winner. ... I would just hope that we would continue [to grow].
"Committees in the town and which concern the town have a mixed race of people on them. We're on the city council and all of that, so we've grown. I think that in many cases or in many places, I've had some other people say, 'Well, we don't have this in our community.' We just have always had strong black people who've led the way."
For more information about the Emancipation Proclamation program, email Reaves at firstname.lastname@example.org.