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Luncheon speakers celebrate Emancipation Proclamation

Norwich — City Historian Dale Plummer briefly asked the 80 people in the audience Thursday to imagine back 150 years to understand why the city wanted to celebrate the anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation.

"Emancipation. It was a great thing. It was astonishing to the people 150 years ago," Plummer said at the Freedom Will Ring Luncheon sponsored by the Norwich Area Clergy Association at the Holiday Inn.

The city is readying for a ringing of church bells Jan. 1, 2013, the 150th anniversary of President Abraham Lincoln's proclamation freeing the slaves.

State Sen. Edith Prague, D-Columbia, said the Emancipation Proclamation "made us a different country," and helped make America a nation of people who respect others and their heritage.

The Rev. David Baird, chaplain to the state Senate, said the significance of slavery in America hit home for him when he was a boy playing hide-and-seek in his family's apple orchard in New Hampshire. He discovered a secret door and a hidden tunnel that led to a small chamber with three wooden cots and dozens of initials carved into the wood.

He learned that his family had helped escaped slaves make their way northward to Canada. He saluted "the heritage of people who risked everything to do what was right."

The Rev. Hugh James, who recently came to Norwich as rector of Christ Church, brought a different perspective. James, who is Welsh, told of how in 2006, the Church of England made an apology for having benefited historically from the labors of slaves in the Caribbean.

"What do we take forward? A commitment to the end of slavery," James said, citing statistics that 27 million people are enslaved around the world today.

Rabbi Charles Arian, the luncheon keynote speaker, was honored throughout Thursday's event as he prepares to leave Beth Jacob Synagogue at the end of June. Arian received two standing ovations and gifts from fellow clergy association members, including a shepherd's crook. The clergy and city officials also presented a shepherd's crook to Prague, who is retiring from the state Senate.

Today and Saturday, the Verdin Bell Co. will cast what is thought to be the nation's first bronze bell to commemorate the Emancipation Proclamation's 150th anniversary. They will melt 300 pounds of bronze in a 2,200-degree furnace while spectators watch.

Earlier Thursday, two large tractor-trailer trucks rolled into the Howard T. Brown Memorial Park escorted by 13 Patriot Guard Riders. One trailer contained "the World's Only Bell Foundry on Wheels," as the side panel boasted, while the other carried its tools and equipment.

"It's all custom-made for this production," Vice President David Verdin said. "It's not like we can go to the local hardware store if we need something."

c.bessette@theday.com





If you go

The historic replica schooner
Amistad will be open for free
tours from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.
today and from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Saturday in Norwich Harbor. The
annual NAACP Juneteenth Day
celebration will take place at
Brown Park Saturday.
A Civil War encampment will
be held at the Norwichtown
Green Saturday and Sunday, with
lectures, demonstrations and firing
drills.
All events at Brown Park and
the Civil War encampment are free
and open to the public.

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