RICHMOND, Va. --Rain, sometimes heavy at times on New Year’s Day is probably to blame for a lackluster turnout at what’s become a tradition for African-Americans in Virginia’s capital city—marking the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation.
The document signed by President Abraham Lincoln in 1863 set in motion freedom for enslaved Africans in many states.
More than 140 years later, the plight of the descendants of those enslaved was the focus of speeches at a worship service at Richmond’s Fifth Baptist Church, which was sponsored by the Baptist Ministers’ Conference of Richmond and Vicinity.
“So often we forget where we came from,” said Herbert Ponder, president of the ministers’ group that hosts the service each year. “Those of us here are charged with sharing this story with generations to come.”
The story of struggle for civil rights, human right and economic rights was recounted by those representing central Virginia’s NAACP chapters, ministerial leaders and elected officials.
“It was just yesterday that we could not eat anywhere our appetites called for,” said J. Rayfield Vines, president of the Henrico County Branch of the NAACP. The civil rights leader questioned whether African-Americans were better people when they were segregated than they are today and “live in the suburbs.”
His comments were echoed by the keynote speaker, Wallace Charles Smith, president of Palmer Baptist Seminary and senior minister Washington, DC’s Shiloh Baptist Church.
In his message “A World Beyond Babylon,” Smith likened the experience of the some Israelites in Babylon in 587 B.C. to African-Americans today, many of whom became too caught up in benefits of their freedom and may have forgotten the role that God played in that freedom.
“Somebody might give you a new name, but remember who you are,” Smith said.
The audience for Washington pastor’s rousing address was much smaller than that which typically fills the first floor of the Fifth Baptist sanctuary.
It was reported that Richmond received as much as three inches of rain on Monday (January 1). As the audience for this service steeped in its traditions of the black church with spirited traditional gospel music tends to include an older demographic, it’s likely the inclement weather forced many to pass on this annual event.