'We still have a long way to go' Message caps Emancipation Day

The Burke High School Jr. ROTC. The annual Emancipation Day Parade brightened up King Street on Wednesday, January 1, 2014. Wade Spees/Staff

The Emancipation Proclamation freed slaves and led to many advances in the black community, but more work needs to be done.

That was the message delivered during a sermon Wednesday afternoon by the Rev. Joseph Darby, a longtime civil rights activist and first vice president of the Charleston NAACP.

"We've come a long way since Jan. 1, 1863, but we still have a long way to go," Darby said during the address at Greater St. Luke AME Church in downtown Charleston.

The church service was one of a series of local events celebrating the 151st annual Emancipation Day.

Darby's sermon followed Charleston's annual Emancipation Proclamation parade. The downtown event included hundreds of people lining the streets to watch the decorated floats and cars carrying beauty queens, sororities, fraternities and churches and to celebrate the New Year's Day anniversary of the executive order issued by President Abraham Lincoln that freed more than 3 million slaves.

In addition, the Tri-County Emancipation Proclamation Convocation 2014 was held on the Grounds of Wesley United Methodist Church in Moncks Corner.

The event included reflections and drum lines from local high schools, in addition to encouragement and words of power for the New Year.

Darby on Wednesday praised the efforts of those who fought for rights of blacks but said it's time for people to come together to mirror the efforts by those who have fought for equality in the past.

"We have to walk in their footsteps and that means we can't do business as usual," he said. "We can't do that if we just turn a blind eye to injustice and bigotry and convince ourselves that things will not get any better."

Darby said there have been some recent issues showing needs to be addressed, citing the federal government shutdown, last year's shooting death of Florida teenager Trayvon Martin and Gov. Nikki Haley declining to accept money from Washington to expand Medicaid benefits under Obamacare.

"Our governor encouraged people as she lit the state Christmas tree to do a random act of kindness and turns around and makes it hard for those in need to get health care and plays with guns like she's Annie Oakley," he said, referencing the markswoman who worked with Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show in the 1800s.

Haley's office defended its stance on health care.

"If anything has been made clear over the last few months, the only thing making it harder for South Carolinians to get health care is Obamacare - and the governor is proud to have fought against it at every turn while also working towards real, South Carolina based answers to our health issues," said spokesman Doug Mayer.

Darby encouraged churchgoers on Wednesday to focus on encouraging each other, helping to the strengthen the black community.

"We have to put down our shot glasses, put down our fishing poles ... put down our iPads and fight for freedom today," he said.

He added that there must also be faith in working toward changes in the community.

"If you're going to rely on God's power, you have to be God's instrument to change things for the better," he said. "We can't talk about what the NAACP and the church needs to do and not get involved."

Organizers have also said the Emancipation Day festivities offer a chance to educate the younger generation on how they've progressed.

"We have to teach our children to never settle for second best," Darby said. "We can stand up and elect people who do the right thing in public office and stand up and tell those who think they're cute to be racist that we don't play that and we will not take that."

Darby neared the end of his speech with marching orders for those in attendance, saying Wednesday was just the start of changes that should occur in the black community.

"Celebrate Emancipation Proclamation today, but when you leave here, work on freedom and justice and equity every day," he said. "Don't wait on somebody else to do it, do it yourself."