Watch Night at Morris Brown AME
Watch Night services trace origins to New Year's Eve 1862, the night before the Emancipation Proclamation was set to take effect | Credit: Herb Frazier

For the fourth year, the Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor Commission will host an afternoon traditional Watch Night service, “Freedom’s Eve: A Gullah Geechee Watch Night Emancipation Day Celebration.”

The 12 p.m. service on Dec. 31 will be held at Morris Brown AME Church, 13 Morris St., in Charleston.

This event is a part of the commission’s initiative to partner with Gullah Geechee communities in Charleston and across North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia and Florida to raise awareness about a celebration that is nearly 160 years old.

The New Year’s Eve and Watch Night service commemorates Jan. 1, 1863, when enslaved people emerged from bondage as a result of the Emancipation Proclamation.

On Dec. 31, 1862, Gullah Geechee people gathered in praise houses and churches to await a new year, marking an end to slavery when the Emancipation Proclamation went into effect on Jan. 1.

Watch Night services will be held in-person and streamed online on Dec. 31 | Credit: Herb Frazier

This date is remembered as Freedom’s Eve and many churches across the Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor use the New Year’s Eve Watch Night Service to honor this date.

To commemorate the tradition, this year’s hybrid event will showcase performances by Teli Shabu & The Magic of African Rhythm, Geechee Gullah Ring Shouters, storyteller Dontavius Williams, Melba Ayco and Northwestern Tap Connection and liturgical dancer Diamin Hill.

The event is hosted by Gullah preservationists Geechee Experience and Dr. Jessica Berry and sponsored by the Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor National Heritage Area, in partnership with the International African American Museum, Emancipation Proclamation Association of Greater Charleston and Magnolia Plantation and Gardens.

This hybrid event is free online and in-person. In-person capacity is limited and requires registration via Eventbrite. To watch the event, check the commission’s Facebook page.