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Friday, February 15, 2008

Center Church plans historic celebration

By Eliza Hallabeck
Special to the Register
The Center Church on the New Haven Green is preparing to celebrate history Saturday: 150 years ago, a Center Church pastor’s writing inspired Abraham Lincoln and sparked progress in Liberia.
Saturday’s events “are to create an awareness that Liberians are multicultural ... and need to celebrate Liberian cultural heritage,” said J. Saifa Johnson, a native of Liberia and coordinator of the forum,
The church, along with the Abolitionist Movement, helped form Liberia College, and helped establish Liberia as a residence for freed U.S. slaves. Leonard Bacon, a Yale graduate and pastor of the Center Church, wrote for the settlement of freed U.S. slaves in Liberia.
Johnson said he hopes that local Liberians will benefit from the event, and gain a firmer understanding of history.
“The fact of the matter of our history is that we are multicultural,” said Johnson.
The events on Saturday will begin with a walk at 2 p.m. from the Center Church that will end back at the church for worship at 3 p.m. The walk will bring participants by the resting place of Jehudi Ashmun, the first Colonial Agent of the American Society, for whom a major street in Monrovia, the capital of Liberia, is named.
“The current Democratic primaries have raised a lot of excitement about the prospects of the first African-American president of the United States,” said Johnson, a former minister of the Black Church at Yale and the International Church at Yale. “Noteworthy is the fact that 10 African Americans had already served as presidents of Liberia.”
Liberia, according to the U.S. Government’s Web site, had a population of more than 3 million as of December 2007. It is comprised of a large number of different ethnic groups, the largest of which is the Kpelle.
According to Johnson, people from New Jersey, Washington, D.C. and Liberia will attend the event.
Part of the plan for Saturday is to discuss the possibility of creating a multicultural congregation at the University of Liberia, formerly known as Liberia College. Johnson said new approaches are being made to re-establish a chaplaincy and congregation at the university, which makes establishing a firm grasp of history of Liberia in the United States imperative to the movement.
At both the university and at the New Haven Green, historical and ethnic diversity, social justice and dialogue will be celebrated through religion.
About 50 to 70 people are expected to be on the Green, according to Johnson, as this is a first-time event. Johnson added he plans for this to be the first of many programs.
Eliza Hallabeck is a New Haven Register intern.

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