Emancipation Commemorated African-Americans Honor Lincoln's Gift of Freedom

Article excerpt

In a downtown Jacksonville church service yesterday, a well-dressed crowd of about 150 African-Americans had their eyes glued on petite 10-year-old Brian Baham as he emphatically recited -- from memory -- a 500-word prepared speech on slavery, injustice and freedom.

Pacing the aisles and punching the air, he was pretending to be Frederick Douglass, one of the foremost abolitionists of the 19th century.

An oral presentation by a child portraying the fiery Douglass is the newest addition to the Lincoln-Douglass Memorial Emancipation Proclamation Association celebration.

The special church service has been held in Jacksonville on New Year's Day for more than 50 years to celebrate the day slaves were freed. Yesterday it was held at Second Missionary Baptist Church on Kings Road.

The service, which is held at a different Christian church each year, commemorates Jan. 1,1863 -- the day President Abraham Lincoln issued the proclamation that freed slaves.

The event normally draws up to 1,000 people, said organizers, who were disappointed by the turnout yesterday. Still, the program is special and moving, attendees and organizers said.

Jacksonville native Eloise Mobley-Harrison, 51, of Mandarin, said the service has been a tradition for her family for more than 15 years.

"I love coming to this event. New Year's Day isn't New Year's Day to me unless I've attended," she said. "The Emancipation Proclamation is a historic event. This service is also historic for the city of Jacksonville."

During yesterday's service, the congregation recited the pledge of allegiance and sang songs including The Star Spangled Banner and Lift Every Voice and Sing, the Negro National Hymn. …