GALLIPOLIS — The Emancipation Celebration Weekend returned this year to the Gallia County Junior Fairgrounds Sept. 22-23 with West Virginia State University President Dr. Anthony Jenkins serving as its keynote speaker.
According to the Emancipation Weekend Committee’s website, the Emancipation Proclamation has been celebrated and observed in Gallia County continuously since 1863. The Gallia County Emancipation Day Celebration is reported to be one of the longest continuous running celebrations of the Emancipation Proclamation in the United States.
Historically, the celebration originally was always celebrated on the 22nd of September. This coincided with President Lincoln’s historic signing of the Emancipation Proclamation which declared slaves “thenceforth and forever more free.” It was conducted in a religious atmosphere. Activities and games such as baseball, sack racing, hog calling and greasy pole climbing were included to stimulate the interest and maintain enthusiasm. Bands, famous orators, politicians, parades, dance and queen contests were also included in the celebration.
Anthony L. Jenkins, Ph.D., West Virginia State University’s eleventh president effective July 1, 2016, is an established higher education leader committed to advocating for students and creating opportunity to higher education for all students, especially culturally under-represented groups, say supporters. Jenkins began his path to West Virginia State University as a United States Army veteran and first-generation college graduate. Jenkins earned a Ph.D. in Educational Leadership and Policy Studies from Virginia Tech University, a Master of Science degree from North Carolina Central University, and a Bachelor’s of Applied Science degree from Fayetteville State University.
“When you think back before about all the changes and obstacles we as a country have overcome, we have all come too far to turn back and we are too close to give up,” said Jenkins referencing the decisions made by President Abraham Lincoln, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and the thousands of activists and soldiers who had sacrificed in the name of equality and freedom. “While we look across our nation and we see conversations that may not be collegial, and some may believe that we are closer to the finish line than we are to the starting line, I challenge us now is not the time to get weary,” said Jenkins to the crowd.
“See, there will always be naysayers and cynical people,” he said. “People who want to dismiss the significant progress our nation has made and point to the extreme actions made by a small few to say that little has changed. I push back on that notion because today we are a better nation. We are better than we have been in the history of our nation. I hear people say all the time that ‘I long for the good old days.’ I’m not sure what good old days they’re longing for. But the hands of time move so that we move forward and not backwards. While I cannot speak to his specific goals, the results of President Lincoln’s signing of the Emancipation Proclamation made way for a nation to understand that, regardless of race, we are all linked. And therefore, the more we learn to value our differences, the more we turn to one another and not away from one another, the more we can accomplish and the greater we become as a people and as a country. Because of his (Lincoln’s) boldness and because of his action, the 13th Amendment was created and that began a wave of change that transformed America, a transformation that later saw civil rights law passed, a change that saw voting rights passed. Doors of opportunity and education swung open. Institutions like West Virginia State University were created. Our nation began to evolve and to change.”
Dean Wright can be reached at 740-446-2342, ext. 2103.