Letters to the EditorNews

Celebrate Emancipation Proclamation Day

In the summer of 2015, the Athens-Clarke County Commission proclaimed, on the NAACP’s request, the first day of every January an official county holiday called Emancipation Proclamation Day. Churches and organizations, start making plans soon for this year.

This day has always been a special one for descendants of slaves, as that’s the official day slaves in Georgia and most of the South were freed. You may say, “That was then, this is now,” but I fear you only say that if you’re not black. I found this out years ago, when I asked a friend to a function on New Year’s Eve. She said no, as she would be in church and then setting off fireworks at midnight. We were both educators in Florida, but this white man had no idea this was a special time for blacks. 

Our country’s birthday, the Fourth of July, was just celebrated. 1776 was a time when only white male landowners could vote. It took the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, plus four constitutional amendments (13, 14, 15 and 24) before black men were “given” full rights. Years later, the 19th Amendment “gave” all women the right to vote. Enough of this brief history, but history still matters—everyone’s history!

Quoting from page 185 of Athenian Michael Thurmond’s book, A Story Untold: Black Men and Women in Athens History, “But the observance of the Anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1 of each year was the most important annual event held at the Morton Building, which became the proud symbol of the power and wealth of Athens’s black middle class.”

This new holiday didn’t cost the county money or give you another day off, but did show respect to descendants of slaves who weren’t shown much after the 1863 proclamation. This is the opinion of a white man who was born and lived in the South for over 74 years. As my father would say to me when he wanted to warn me, “A word to the wise.” 

Let me make a recommendation to the county commission: Check the names of streets in Clarke County. Do we have some named after people who advocated racist views, such as some of Georgia’s past governors, like Lester Maddox? Is Morton Road named after Pink Morton? Do we have a Jimmy Carter Road? Why not? Change Front Street, now known as Broad Street. We have two streets named after President Cleveland, a road and an avenue. One goes by Habitat for Humanity. Actually, the change would make either one pass right by Habitat for Humanity. Why not change one to honor President Jimmy Carter, a founder of Habitat for Humanity, who is the only U.S. president from our state, and has been and still is a strong advocate for all minorities’ rights and freedoms? 

For more information on this issue, please write Alvin Sheats, president at NAACP Clarke, P.O. Box 82522, Athens, GA 30601, or You can also contact us if you are interested in becoming a member. We welcome you and need you.