RICHMOND, Va.– Even though it was a bright sunny day, a near capacity crowd at one West end church heard a lot about rain on this Emancipation Proclamation Day service.
The hundreds who packed Fifth Baptist Church on Cary Street for the city’s 72nd celebration of the famous proclamation signed January 1, 1863 by President Abraham Lincoln that freed slaves in Virginia and nine other states, also heard from both the Richmond’s first black mayor and the city’s current mayor, the second to be directly-elected.
Scent of Rain
H. Beecher Hicks, senior pastor of Washington, DC’s Metropolitan Baptist Church, in his address, drew parallels between the prophetic words of Ezekiel about shepherds who were irresponsible in not caring for needs of the unfortunate and some in government today who have abandoned a sense of a social agenda.
“What do you do?” Hicks said when “the poor get poorer and the rich go to tea parties.”
The “scent of rain” Hicks spoke of blessings that come from unexpected showers from God
“If I smell the rain before it comes, it’s a sign of what God is about to do,” Hicks told the crowd of attendees from dozens of area churches, many of which have pastors who are members of the Baptist Ministers Conference of Richmond and Vicinity, the sponsor of today’s service.
Full disclosure: Dr. Hicks was my pastor for four years when I was an undergraduate student at Howard University in the early 1990s.
Usually held on New Year’s Day, this year’s Emancipation Day Service was delayed a day due to the New Year coming in on a Sunday.
Former Richmond Mayor, Current Mayor Speak
Not scheduled to speak, Richmond Mayor Dwight Jones, who until recently pastored First Baptist Church of South Richmond, reminded the crowd of mostly African American attendees how important it is to know where we’ve come from and who brought us here.
He was one of several speakers who made reference to some of the conflicts even among those within the movement for civil rights and human rights.
“All of our enemies are not on the other side,” Jones said. ” Some even look like us.”
Near the conclusion of the service, State Senator Henry L. Marsh, who was Richmond’s first African American elected mayor in the mid 1970s, spoke of his pleasure with Jones’ leadership as the second so-called “strong mayor” despite Marsh’s own reservations about the switch from the council-manager form of city government several years ago.
Marsh urged attendees to join him in fighting proposals in the upcoming Virginia General Assembly to change state’s Voter ID laws.
Emancipation Services Elsewhere
Richmond was one of several cities where events were sponsored this week to remind attendees of the historic significance of the Emancipation Proclamation.
In Athens, Ga., civil rights pioneers were recognized and paid tribute to during a service in the Northeast Georgia community Sunday.
Meanwhile, church services were held in Indianapolis and in Pine Bluff, Arkansas.
In North Charleston, South Carolina, an Emancipation Proclamation parade preceded that community’s anniversary worship service.