On the night of December 31, 1998 a crowd of youngsters ran about in the square at the center of the City of York. Most carried in their hands small pieces of paper. They were participating in a Family Scavenger Hunt. Following this Hunt, one of the scheduled New Years Eve events, the City leaders would lift the veil on a special banner, an announcement of the start of the 250th Anniversary Celebration for York, Pennsylvania.
Those youngsters, who would sleep through most of the later New Years Eve events, did not realize that their Hunt took place not far from a building where Robert H. Terrell spent much of his New Year's Eve, during the moment in time that included both December of 1912 and January of 1913. On that night Terrell, America's first Black federal judge, composed the speech that he would deliver on January 1, 1913. He knew that he would address the congregation at the A.M.E. church on East King Street in York.
Terrell knew that those listening to his talk would have on their minds the reason for that special January 1st event, an Emancipation Day Jubilee. They would expect his words to echo the importance of the occasion, a remembrance of the day when the Emancipation Proclamation became effective. Hence, Terrell began to imagine what it was like to be a slave on the night of that momentous New Year's Eve event-the initiation of plans for a future of freedom.
Then as Terrell mused about the eve of that Emancipation Proclamation, he began to think about all of the strides made by African-Americans since January 1, 1863. He reviewed in his mind the many accomplishments that African-Americans had celebrated during past New Years Eve events. Motivated by those thoughts, Terrell then put pen to paper, and he created a speech that was most admired by those who braved the cold temperatures and came to the A.M.E. church on January 1, 1913.
As Terrell spoke his moving rhetoric caused the frivolity of the previous night's New Years Eve celebration to pale, while the importance of the Jubilee became increasingly evident. Blacks and white sat together in the church pews and imagined in their own minds what might have transpired during that night before the Emancipation. They began to empathize with the joy that must have become part of the New Year's Eve events for so many slaves then living in the southern states of the U.S.
Those listening to Terrell came to realize that a New Year's Eve celebration does not need to be loud in order to be joyful. The slaves who knew that their freedom was just hours away certainly enjoyed a joyful but quiet New Year's Eve. And even though no record exists of what they did on that night, still their quiet "celebration" might be considered as one of the truly important New Years Eve events.
All these thoughts passed through the minds of the adults at the A.M.E. church as they listened to Terrell's talk. Only a small segment of the listeners failed to grasp the meaning of what he said. Some of the younger members of the audience were still reflecting on the results of the previous night's Family Scavenger Hunt.