Celebrating 150 years: Emancipation Day

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One-hundred-and-fifty years ago on January 1, 1863, thousands of black Carolinians and their missionary friends gathered at Camp Saxton in Port Royal for the reading of the Emancipation Proclamation. One-hundred-and-fifty years later on January 1, 2013, an Emancipation Day Service and feast in Beaufort will celebrate what has been described as the “dawn of freedom.”

On New Year’s Day 1863, Camp Saxton, the camp of the First Carolina Volunteers (Colored), was the scene of elaborate ceremonies celebrating the enactment of the Emancipation Proclamation. Thousands of freed men and women came by land and by water from Port Royal, Beaufort and the Sea Islands to join Federal military and civil authorities and others in marking the event with a service and a barbecue.  Beneath an oak tree at the camp, the proclamation was read and the First Carolina Volunteers (Colored) Infantry received its national and regimental colors and was officially taken into service.

Charlotte Forten, a black teacher who attended the celebration, wrote in her journal, “Ah, what a grand and glorious day this has been. The dawn of freedom which it heralds may not break upon us at once; but it will surely come, and sooner, I believe, than we have ever dare hope before. My soul is glad with an exceeding great gladness.”  Colonel Thomas W. Higginson recorded in his diary at the end of the day, “So ended one of the most enthusiastic and happy gatherings I ever knew. The day was perfect, and there was nothing but success.”

The Emancipation Day Service and Feast will be held on January 1, 2013, at the Tabernacle Baptist Church in Beaufort. The service will begin at 10 a.m. with Dr. Bernard Powers, professor of History and Interim Chair at the College of Charleston, as the guest speaker. Dr. Powers stated that, “Reading the Emancipation Proclamation in Beaufort is particularly meaningful because this area was one of the earliest frontiers of freedom for black Carolinians.  What happened here, the new opportunities and challenges predicted a new South and indeed a new America which would enjoy a birth of freedom as never before.”

After the service, bus transportation will be available for those interested in visiting the historic camp Saxton site where the emancipation oak still stands. They will then return to the church for the feast that will include many traditional Gullah New Year’s dishes. State Representative Kenneth Hodges, who pastors the Tabernacle Baptist Church, pointed out that, “It is significant for the community to come together on the 150th Anniversary of the reading of the Emancipation Proclamation and reflect and celebrate how far we have come as a people, a state, and a nation. Those who assembled here that day to hear the proclamation issued by then President Abraham Lincoln could hardly have imagined that on this day, 150 years later, an African American prepares to be inaugurated for his second term as President of the United States of America.”

The Emancipation Day Service and Feast is a part of the Tabernacle Baptist Church’s 150th Anniversary Celebration.  Tabernacle Baptist Church is located at 911 Craven Street in Beaufort, S.C. For more information, call 843-524-0376 or 843-525-9006.