Community watch service to highlight history

Published 12:04 am Friday, December 28, 2012

By Julia Nagy/The Natchez Democrat

NATCHEZ — The City Auditorium will be filled with music and hidden messages this New Year’s Eve for a community wide watch night service.

The free 90-minute program, which starts at 6 p.m., is a historical look at the Emancipation Proclamation’s effect on the enslaved.

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Darrell White, director of the Natchez Association for the Preservation of African American Culture Museum, said the event will only last until 7:30, so as to not interfere with others’ New Year’s Eve plans.

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’s program will feature songs once sung by slaves, such as “Wade in the Water,” which often had hidden meanings, White said. Those hidden meanings will be revealed in the program.

White said he will speak to the crowd about the historical importance of the songs.

The event, which is a joint effort of NAPAC and the Natchez National Historic Park, will feature an interdenominational choir and soloists from local churches.

The event came about after a nationwide push to celebrate the Sesquicentennial of the Civil War, the 150th anniversary.

NAPAC wanted an event to help share some of the historical background of Natchez and highlight how the Emancipation Proclamation was a major turning point. Natchez National Historic Park was brought into the project by the sesquicentennial element.

NAPAC hopes to make this a yearly event.

The choir is comprised of various church groups, including members from the Holy Family Catholic Church and Pilgrim Baptist Church. Music director Alvin Shelby will lead the choir.

“We have a shared history,” White said. “The City of Natchez has prided itself in its accumulation of its antebellum structures, but very little attention has been given to the folks who provided the labor. Everybody, come learn some of the history of our region together.”