Local black groups remember the past while installing a new slate of officers.
YOUNGSTOWN -- It was a day that set the course for modern America: Jan. 1, 1863, when Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation. But Youngstown is one of the few areas of the country that still commemorates it.
The Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance of Youngstown and the Youngstown chapter of the NAACP gathered Saturday to install their officers and recall the seminal moment in black emancipation.
The Rev. Lewis Macklin, pastor of Holy Trinity Missionary Baptist Church, recalled going to the service as a child when he attended New Bethel Baptist Church. The Rev. Mr. Macklin said as far as he knows the observance has been held here for at least five decades.
"It used to be overflowing with people, but we have tried to keep it alive for young people so they can recognize some of their rights and privileges," Mr. Macklin noted.
That battle against slavery continues, he said. "Many are enslaved by drugs, illiteracy and misappropriation of priorities."
For the Rev. Robert Johnson, pastor of Bethlehem Lutheran Church, the day has special meaning. He is a sixth grand-nephew of President Lincoln on his mother's side of the family.
"We are still on the road to emancipation -- we are still in the struggle after 500 years," the Rev. Mr. Johnson said.
A scripture from the Old Testament of the Bible provided a thread that was woven through much of the service as a leadership call to action directed at the pastors as well as the congregants of local churches who had assembled at Elizabeth Baptist Church.
The Rev. Kevin Crum, keynote speaker and pastor of New Hope Baptist Church, referred to Ezekiel 22:30, which states, "And I sought for a man among them that should make up the hedge, and stand in the gap before me for the land, that I should not destroy it: but I found none."
The Rev. Mr. Crum called for those present to pray for their leaders, their pastors and their churches.
"I don't care whether you think Bush is your president, you better pray for him," he said. He said the United States' updated pledge of hundreds of millions of dollars for the tsunami disaster in South Asia shows that prayer works. "Someone prayed for him [President Bush] to turn $35 million into $300 million."
Minister Carolyn O'Neil of Tabernacle Baptist Church led the group in the recitation of the emancipation litany. It detailed the deliverance and struggles of blacks through the years.
It also noted those who have lead the fight for civil rights such as Harriet Tubman, Frederick Douglas and Thurgood Marshall.
In the litany, using the first day of 2005, it admonished those in attendance to move forward into the future.
"Let us leave behind those sins that pulled us down in the old year, and answer the high calling of your will for our lives in the new year."
The installation of officers for the two organizations was conducted by the Rev. Robert Offerdal, pastor of Christ Presbyterian Church.
After the ceremony, new NAACP chapter president Willie Oliver called upon pastors to become members as well as the younger generation.
"We need young people to get involved. We need them to be prepared for the future. We're going to need them even more in the future than in the past," he said.
As president of the ministerial alliance, the Rev. Willie Peterson, pastor of New Birth Community Church, noted, "We have been given a charge to lead -- to stand in the gap. When we take on leadership roles, others will follow."