Emancipation Day - 1879

The colored people of Mt. Pleasant and neighboring towns met last Monday to celebrate the anniversary of that great event which took place Sept. 22d, 1862. Seventeen years have elapsed since A. Lincoln penned that immortal proclamation which gave liberty to a race of bondsmen; yet the colored man has not forgotten him, and the warmest spot in his heart is still for "the memory of honest Old Abe Lincoln."

The people met under unfavorable circumstances, the rain preventing a grand procession to the fair grounds. At 12 o’clock, however, Shadel’s cornet band announced that the procession was forming at A.M.E. Church, and it soon passed through the principal streets, going at once to the hall. Levi Clay read the Emancipation Proclamation, a song was sung by the glee club and then the throng retired to the adjacent rooms, where the tables were spread from the well-filled baskets. They then all fell to with an appetite which only comes once a year – upon Emancipation Day.

After dinner, T.E. Dortch (Thomas E. Dortch), the orator of the day, made the regular address. He said he heard some one remark that this was the 'negroes’ day. He thought it was the white man’s day as well. "For," said he, "the American people were never free in the highest sense until Abraham Lincoln penned that proclamation, which carried out the grand principles of the immortal Declaration of Independence. 'Tis true the negro is degraded and low to-day, and why! Because for two hundred and fifty years he was the bound slave of a relentless task-master. Give him a chance to get education, to get money, give him equal rights before the law and in twenty years’ time there will be a change. We are poor, ignorant and degraded, because we were abused and kicked and involuntarily made slaves for over two centuries. In our attempt to rise, we have everything to contend with, we are poor, without influence, prejudice is against us, we have no lever by which to raise ourselves, except one, and honor be to Charles Sumner and those who helped him, that we have the ballot. But our progress is necessarily slow; place the most intelligent white men in the degraded position in which we were for two hundred and fifty years and they would be sunk almost to the level of brutes, so were we, and from that condition we must slowly emerge. Many of our people cannot read because you have denied us the privilege of the schools. It was a crime before the war, in the Southern States, to teach a negro to read. But to-day, freedmen schools are established all over the South, and if we are not educated, it is our own fault. All I ask is that we have a fair chance and we will show to the white men and to the world that we are not what we have been represented to be by our enemies. We ask for a free ballot; we demand that the shot-gun rule shall not be permitted in the South; we ask that our people shall not be compelled to emigrate from their homes, or stay at the peril of their lives, as they have in Mississippi and Louisiana. We ask that the negro shall be allowed to compete with the white man in every honorable calling, not as an equal, but in so far as he can do the same work, we ask for freedom in the highest sense, and we thank God for such men as Lincoln, Sumner, and Grant, who have extended to us our liberties and defended our rights."

The address of Mr. Dortch was thoughtful and well applied. He thinks with much (sic) conscentiveness and force and his address did himself and his people credit. The speaker was applauded many times during his speech.

Short addresses were made by other speakers, among which was a most eloquent one by T.A. Cheek. Judge Drayer spoke briefly. The meeting closed with the idea prevailing that the colored race have just entered upon a career that will in time be as grand and glorious as that of any race of men.

("Mount Pleasant Journal", September 25, 1879, page 2)

Transcribed and contributed by Pat White, January 2022.
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