By SHERRY DIGMON
News Staff Writer
The Emancipation Proclamation celebration at Gaines Chapel AME Church Sunday afternoon, January 6, was indeed a celebration of the proclamation’s signing and the abolishment of slavery. But this service was also a time of gratitude for God’s great grace and mercy. And it was a time for the guest speaker to challenge those in attendance, especially the young people.
Theresa White presided over the service.
Accompanied by Minister of Music Willie J. Grissett, everyone joined in singing “Lift Every Voice and Sing.”
Minister Isabelle Brazzell began the opening prayer with a stanza of “I Need Thee Every Hour,” sung softly, even as several members of the congregation joined in. Her prayer was one of gratitude.
The choir chanted “Thank You, Lord.”
Kelly Pleasant read the Scripture, Joshua 4:1-7.
Russell Robinson presented the Welcome / Occasion.
Program Director Urla Boggan recognized visiting organizations, clubs, and businesses.
Escambia County Board of Education Chairman Willie J. Grissett was next to address the gathering.
“I don’t ever miss an opportunity to say something about education,” he said.
He talked about the recent release of grades for the county’s public schools – a C overall. Though an improvement over last year’s grades, especially since Escambia County High School is no longer on the failing school list, the grades are “not good enough,” Mr. Grissett said.
He talked briefly about ECHS’ new football coach and hopes for another good season and congratulated Flomaton High School’s football team for winning the state championship in their division.
Mayor Jim Staff added to Mr. Grissett’s comments with remarks about ECHS’ seniors receiving the highest dollar amount in scholarships last year, more than any other high school in the area – public and private.
“We’ve got things going in Atmore,” he said. “I’m proud of this town.”
Mayor Staff then read a proclamation from the city on the occasion of the Emancipation Proclamation Celebration at Gaines Chapel on January 6.
Sandra Culliver read the Emancipation Proclamation.
Pianists were Urla Boggan and Willie J. Grissett. Special music was provided by the Gaines Chapel Gospel Choir and a new Gaines Chapel contemporary group, RAYACS.
The Gaines Chapel A.M.E. Church Y.P.D. Praise Team performed a dramatic presentation.
Jackie Dortch introduced the guest speaker, Louie Turner III, a graduate of Anniston City School System and Alabama A&M University. He worked in management with Army & Air Force Exchange Services and Southwest Airlines prior to relocating to Atmore in January 1998 and establishing Turner Funeral Chapel. He served two terms (eight years) on the Atmore City Council.
This was a special weekend, Mr. Turner said. One year ago this day, he was in Anniston preparing to direct his mother’s funeral the next day. Twenty-one years ago this day, he “embarked on the city of Atmore.” As of the day before, January 5, an organization in which he is a member, Kappa Alpha Psi, celebrated its 108th birthday. And 156 years ago, on January 1, the Emancipation Proclamation was signed.
In his opening prayer, Mr. Turner thanked God for His grace and His mercy.
He talked about “From whence we came, where we are and where we should be.” He gave a history of the Emancipation Proclamation.
“We thank Abraham Lincoln for his compassion, for his idea that slavery is not equality,” he said.
Addressing the young people in the sanctuary, he talked about “how we made it to this point.”
“Young people need to know not only about the documents but the faith of our ancestors,” Mr. Turner said, the ancestors who prayed through the night and sang the old songs.
“They prayed and said, ‘Lord, I know you hear my cry.’ Our young people today do not know about the old songs … Our young people are walking around with pants sagging. I’m thinking about lives lost over 156 years, yet we want to walk around like 150 years ago … Our kids don’t understand ‘Precious Lord, Take My Hand.’ Young people, God is going to be your strength.
“Lot of sacrifices have [been made]. But we’re still not where we need to be. Young people, become more involved in your community. Become more involved in your walk with Jesus Christ. Understand and know what it means when they sing ‘Amazing Grace.’
“… My challenge is to see what we can do better this year, to be better as a people … We’ve got to keep trusting in the Lord.”
Pastor Amos Smith closed the service with remarks, and the congregation joined hands in the singing of “Reach Out and Touch (Somebody’s Hand).”