Ministerial Alliance marks 148th anniversary of end of slavery

Evelyn Foxx, president of the Alachua County branch of the NAACP, delivers greetings on behalf of her organization as the Rev. T.A. Wright, right, the speaker and pastor emeritus of Mount Carmel Baptist Church, and the Rev. Milford L. Griner look on.

Brad McClenny/Special to the Guardian
Published: Thursday, January 6, 2011 at 6:33 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, January 6, 2011 at 6:33 p.m.

The Rev. Dr. Thomas A. Wright delivered a message of hope and optimism at a service commemorating the Emancipation Proclamation in which he said the black church is the only hope black people in the U.S. have for full deliverance from their former slave condition.

More than 60 people attended the 148th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation service presented by the Alachua County Ministerial Alliance last Saturday at Mount Carmel Baptist Church.

The service was held in honor of the Emancipation Proclamation, an executive order signed by President Abraham Lincoln on Jan. 1, 1863, that made slavery illegal in the U.S.

The service began with a processional of members of the alliance and the singing of "Lift Ev'ry Voice and Sing," the Negro National Anthem, before alliance member Elder Clifford Patrick, pastor of New Beginnings Church of God By Faith, gave the invocation.

The service also included the reading of New and Old Testament scripture by Minister Kevin McBride of Mount Carmel and the Rev.

Thomas Fields, pastor of Trinity Baptist Church in Gainesville.

Bonnie Burgess, former mayor of the city of Alachua, read the Emancipation Proclamation in its entirety, and greetings were provided by representatives from several organizations.

During her greetings, Evelyn Foxx, president of the Alachua County branch of the NAACP, said she was "saddened" Mount Carmel was not filled to capacity to celebrate the occasion.

Representing wives and widows of local ministers, Mae Griner, wife of alliance member the Rev. Milford L. Griner, shared the sentiments of Foxx. She also said she wants to see the event grow in the future.

"I envision this being a huge event one day with all of the great organizations in Gainesville coming together to celebrate our freedom," said Mae Griner.

The highlight of the service was a message by Wright, 90, who served as pastor of Mount Carmel from 1962 to 2006. He received a standing ovation before delivering his message, which dealt with "Conditions of Slavery & Deliverance."

He began by saying some people need to be reminded about what slavery was like in the U.S., which he described as the worst kind of slavery the world has ever known.

He said white people made it their business to sell slave family members to different owners to ensure there would be no family togetherness. However, he said slaves were smart enough to create an underground method of communication that allowed them to know where their family members were living.

"They remembered where they lived before they were sold, and they remembered who their masters were," Wright said.

He said some masters had their slaves whipped daily no matter "how well they worked or got along."

Wright also said there were some "strong and robust slaves" who refused to be beaten daily, adding that those slaves were eventually killed by their masters.

"Killing a slave was not a crime," Wright said. "They were just property. No more than a cow or a horse."

He talked about other conditions of slavery, including how it was illegal to teach slaves how to read and write and how some slaves were given Sunday off while others didn't get a day off.

He said masters would often preach to slaves at worship services on Sundays, usually preaching from a scripture in Ephesians that reads, "Obey your master as you would obey Christ."

Wright then said blacks are not the only people who have been enslaved. "Every ethnic group has some kind of slavery in their background," Wright said.

As he moved from slavery to the eras of sharecropping and segregation and then to contemporary black America, Wright said the greatest problem facing the black community today is "the weakness of the black family," to which he received applause.

He also talked about the high number of "isolated communities" or housing projects, where low-income blacks live with alarmingly high rates of crime and high school dropouts, drug addicts and teenage unwed mothers. He said people living in those places need the church more than anything.

"The church is our strongest organization and our greatest hope for deliverance," Wright said. "The church needs to go to those isolated communities and tell those people that God loves them."

Wright said it has been the church that has led black people out of all of their circumstances in the past.

"After the Emancipation Proclamation, it was the church that laid the foundation for our education," he said. "The church and preachers led the way for us, and our only hope for deliverance is the church."

He said it is going to be the church that is going to lead the way in creating more strong families and prosperous business districts in the black community.

"We are going to praise the Lord for what the church is going to do," Wright said as the audience stood to applaud again.

He then used scripture to close out his speech.

"Isaiah 40 gives us a lot of hope," he said.

Wright said the children of Israel had been in captivity and some of them did not want to return to the promised land.

"Isaiah told them that they were not going by themselves and that God was going with them," Wright said. "On their journey, God made rough places smooth and crooked paths straight. God is going to lead us all the way. I'm here to tell you God is going to lead us all the way."

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