Cartersville's Alexander Chapel United Methodist Church will observe New Year's Day not only as the start of 2011 but as the 147th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation signed into effect by President Abraham Lincoln.
The immediate effects, however, did not amount to widespread freedom, as Southern states had already seceded from the Union by the 1863 pen date. Freedom was contingent upon a military victory by the North and excluded loyal border states but a precedent was set and the document's historical importance would not be diminished.
Nearly 150 years later, Alexander Chapel strives to remind guests what America has overcome. The annual New Year's Day Emancipation Proclamation Program includes a message from guest speakers, a brief luncheon and awards.
Lay Speaker and Worship Leader for Alexander Chapel Margaret Smith, likened the celebration of freedom to that of the Fourth of July.
"We've been celebrating [the Emancipation Proclamation] here since 1929. It's to keep the memory alive, keep people informed. It's not to hurt anyone or upset anyone, it's just a celebration," Smith said. "You don't want history to repeat itself, and if you don't study it, learn it and change the pattern, that's what will happen."
The theme of this year's message will be 'A Time For Healing' given by the Rev. Charles Ramsey Jr., senior pastor of St. Luke AME.
"I think the importance of it is for us as a country and also as a people to never, ever forget where we came from and never forget how the Lord delivered us out of slavery," Ramsey said. "I think the message will speak to not just the past but it will speak to the future, it will speak to where we are now
"Emancipation means to be free -- how we are free within our minds, within slavery and other things like dealing with this economic crisis."
Smith remembered enduring segregation throughout school, attending civil rights marches, being spit at and having things thrown at her -- all for the color of her skin. She added that memories, photographs and movies can bring back some of the pain admitting that "sometimes it's hard for us to heal." The scars left on the country have not completely vanished, said Smith, reiterating the need for healing and unity.
"All of that made me stronger and made me want to fight for the right thing. I can't dwell on the things that have happened and none of us should. That's what makes us better as a people. ... It's time for the whole nation to heal, we still have our hidden prejudices -- all races," Smith said. "There are a lot of us that still dwell on the past instead of trying to learn from our mistakes and correct situations because of the past. To grow not just as a people but to grow as a nation, it's time for healing. There's too much pain and we put too much interest in so many other things that we're not concerned about how we can make things better."
Smith encourages younger generations to increase their activism and involvement, she urges them to find a cause for which they're passionate. Last year's theme was 'Too Comfortable' invoking the sense of complacency she felt after President Obama's election.
"Everybody was all excited. OK, you've got a black president but you're not doing anything else. Are you going to keep on celebrating? Are you going to keep on partying? It's over, the campaign is over, the election is over, the inaugural ball is over. Now what are you going to do? Wait another four years and vote? You've become too comfortable. Now you're just sitting back. Every generation in my lifetime, even before my lifetime, all young people had a cause. They were fighting for something," Smith said.
During her career as a paraprofessional with the Cartersville City Schools System, Smith found that many students knew nothing about their heritage and history, including the Emancipation Proclamation.
"After talking to kids while I was working in the school system I found that many didn't know about it. Some of them didn't even know what was going on," she said. "We're a diverse society and I truly believe it helps if you know your past and learn about other people."
With the Emancipation Proclamation Program occurring on New Year's Day, Ramsey commented on the timing in association with setting resolutions for improving life.
"Since we'll be dealing with healing and dealing with change, it's the perfect time in the new year to start all over again. I believe that the Lord gives us a brand new year so we can start all over again because everybody has a resolution and most people don't keep it, but because of the grace of God, we can keep on trying again and keep on working again -- and we will meet those resolutions or those commitments."
The Emancipation Proclamation Program will begin at 11 a.m. at Alexander Chapel UMC, 609 Martin Luther King Jr. Drive in Cartersville.