'Thank you so much for the work'

Chatham NAACP branch celebrates Jubilee, historical examples of overcoming

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PITTSBORO — The Chatham Community NAACP Branch #5377 bookended its virtual Jubilee Day this weekend with African American civil rights songs calling for freedom — beginning with the playing of “Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me Around” and concluding with the singing of “We Shall Overcome.”

Attended by around 50 people, the event celebrated 158 years since the Emancipation Proclamation was issued Jan. 1, 1863, marking the date President Abraham Lincoln declared that “all persons held as slaves… are, and henceforward, shall be free.”

“The document was signed at midnight and our ancestors shouted out loudly: ‘Jubilee day is here!’” Branch President Mary Nettles said of the history of the day at the beginning of the event. Though the Emancipation Proclamation did not immediately free enslaved people — that would come two years later when Congress passed the 13th Amendment — Nettles emphasized the historical significance of the day for African Americans.

“We come to rejoice and remember our struggles our ancestors had to overcome,” she said. “Our forefathers fought to eliminate discrimination from every corner of Chatham county … Let us rejoice and celebrate Jubilee Day.”

The event — which included prayers, poetry and more music — featured a presentation by Marjorie Hudson, founder and director of the George Moses Horton Project and Jubilee, which celebrates and honors the life and work of Horton, who was a slave poet in Chatham County.

“What white people and Black people know about history is two different things,” Hudson said during her presentation, noting the discrepancy of knowledge in Chatham regarding the life of George Moses Horton — as well as whether or not people know he is the namesake for Horton Middle School, originally founded “Horton School” for Black Children in the 1930s, in Pittsboro.

Hudson was one of the main people who fought for the marker recognizing Horton that stands along U.S. Hwy. 15-501 North in northern Chatham. During her presentation, Hudson shared about Horton’s quest to purchase his freedom with money earned through his published poetry collections. Born on William Horton’s tobacco plantation in 1798, Horton’s efforts were ultimately unsuccessful — he settled in Philadelphia after living 68 years as a slave, and died in 1883.

“Come help me sing the morning song, while woods are sweetly blooming,” Hudson read from one of Horton’s poems, urging Zoom participants to also join in reading with her. “And bear the joyful strain along, that happier days are coming.”

During a presentation on the history of the branch, Chatham NAACP member Rose Krasnow highlighted the many achievements toward justice the branch has helped bring about — namely with respect to the opposition of Jim Crow laws, voting intimidation and workplace discrimination — as well as those still to be fought for.

“The work and accomplishments of the community branch have not made the front pages of the newspaper and are not recorded in the Chatham County archives,” Krasnow said, “but evidence of the difference that the branch has made in Chatham County is permanently engraved in the changes that have been brought about since the chapter was organized in the 50s.”

Chatham County Sheriff Mike Roberson gave brief closing remarks, thanking NAACP members for their work and to the community leaders and elected officials who attended. Locally, Commissioners Karen Howard and Diana Hales were on the call.

“Today, as we celebrate Jubilee and the Emancipation Proclamation, we sure appreciate the struggles and rejoicing and celebrating we have over our accomplishments,” Roberson said. “Thank you so much for the work — there’s more to be done … I love all of you as a brother and sister and all of us as one big family, and we’re children of God.”

To end the Jubilee celebration, Rev. Evan Harrison, who gave a benediction, called on participants to unmute themselves and join in a final musical tribute, “We Shall Overcome.” From their respective Zoom locations — and at slightly different times due to audio delays — attendees declared the words to the well-known civil rights anthem.

“Deep in my heart, I do believe,” the couple dozen voices sang, “we shall overcome some day.”

Reporter Hannah McClellan can be reached at hannah@chathamnr.com.

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