Enquirer Herald

York County churches celebrate Jubilee Day

On Jan. 1, 149 years ago, President Abraham Lincoln's decree emancipated enslaved men, women and children across the embattled nation and sent African-American churches in freed states into joyous celebration.

On Monday, more than 50 people gathered for their own Jubilee Day, an annual celebration of the Emancipation Proclamation which declared Jan. 1, 1863, as the day all slaves would be free.

Pastors, choirs and other community members got out of the crisp, winter air and gathered at the St. Matthew AME Zion Church in Rock Hill for an afternoon of prayer, song and reflection on what that day many years ago means.

Melvin Poole, president of the Rock Hill NAACP, pointed out that, while black churches in freed states cried out for joy on Emancipation Day, most slaves had to await the force of Union troops before finding freedom.

On Monday, the historic struggle of African-Americans rang out in soulful gospel songs led by the Liberty Hill Men's Choir and Chester's Chestnut Grove A.M.E. Zion Church Choir.

The Rev. Ina Culp Harris of Chestnut Grove AME delivered an impassioned sermon punctuated with a simple, positive message: "It's good for us to be here."

Harris took the congregation "down memory lane," back to when families struggled to buy loaves of bread, to pay for their lunches at school, and to afford the basic necessities of life.

Things have changed, she said, and thanks be to God and "to all those who've led us to better days ... We are in a new day."

But coupled with the message of progress and renewal was one of looking forward to 2012 - to the changes those gathered Monday would make in their own lives to help others and their communities.

The Rev. Trishaun Kendall, pastor of St. Matthew AME Zion, said that message is important. He hopes to attract more youths to get involved in the churches and communities.

"It really helps bridge the gap between the historical struggle and the current struggle that we still have for equality," Kendall said.

While African-Americans and other minorities are no longer institutionally enslaved, he said, "a lot of injustices" still need to be addressed.

The annual event "shows the community that we still are working toward reaching that goal of equality not just for African-Americans, but for all people," Kendall said, adding that the community has "not forgotten the struggle that our forefathers and foremothers have fought for."

Poole, looking ahead to the 2012 election season, asked for help registering and motivating voters.

Barbara Johns, who lives in Rock Hill and has taught high school and college in York and Chester counties, has attended many of the annual Jubilee Day celebrations.

Attendance Monday was low, probably because many people had to go back to work, Johns said.

The celebration was moved to Monday from its traditional date on New Year's Day because the holiday fell on Sunday this year.

For Johns, the celebration is about "history and memory."

"To remember where we came from, because it's important to know where you've been in order to know where you're going."