° empty

Watch service celebrates Emancipation anniversary

Ben Hillyer | The Natchez Democrat Tony Fields sings “Wade in the Water” with a community choir during a watch night service at the City Auditorium Monday night.

NATCHEZ — Today marks more than just the start of a new year; it also marks the 150th anniversary of the day President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed all enslaved persons in Confederate territory to be forever free.

More than 100 people gathered Monday evening in the Natchez City Auditorium to celebrate the anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation at a watch night service hosted by the Natchez Association for the Preservation of African American Culture and Natchez National Historic Park.

“Today is a day of celebration,” NAPAC Museum Director Darrell White said.

A watch night service — which now occur at a number of area churches on New Year’s Eve — is a late-night Christian service. Historically, many slaves gathered together on the 1862 New Year’s Eve to await news of their freedom.

Monday, the Freedom Fellowship Choir sang several spiritual songs, including “Wade in the Water,” which White said Harriet Tubman used to covertly instruct escaping slaves to wade through the water to throw off dogs tracking them.

White also said slaves were given other hidden messages, such as “Look for the drinking gourd,” which meant for slaves to follow the Big Dipper because it contained the North Star.

White talked about the effect of the Emancipation Proclamation on slaves, the Underground Railroad and the use of black soldiers in the Civil War.

White also noted that the Emancipation Proclamation anniversary also falls on the last day of Kwanzaa.

“(Today) being New Year’s Day and the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation, the word for (today) is imani, which means faith, and that means to believe with all our hearts in God, our people, our parents, our teachers, our leaders and the righteousness and victory of our struggle.”