Emancipation in Florida: A Historical Overview
This collection of primary resources tells the story of emancipation history in Florida and Texas, showing the distinction between how news regarding the end of slavery spread among the two states.
“Emancipation in Florida” Compiled by Mary Cathrin May for Althemese Barnes, Director of the John G. Riley Foundation, Tallahassee, Florida September 20, 2020.
Brief Overview from “Emancipation in Florida”
In today’s world, news of a single event can be transmitted across the planet in seconds. This was not the case in April 1865 as the Civil War was coming to an end. In the war-torn South, news traveled slowly, often by word of mouth, and the details sometimes were incorrect or contradictory. Also, noted by Clifton Lewis, Historian of the Florida African American Heritage Preservation Network, is the fact that due to the refusal of slave holders to acknowledge Abraham Lincoln as their President, slaves were not released upon the signing of the Proclamation on January 1, 1863. Neither the end of the war nor the end of slavery was absolutely confirmed until Union troops arrived in each locality to receive the surrender of their Confederate counterparts. This process happened in stages, with areas farther west learning the news weeks after the folks closer to the east coast.
Union Brigadier General Edward M. McCook arrived in Tallahassee to receive the surrender of Florida’s Confederate troops on May 10th. On May 20th, McCook formally announced President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation from the steps of the Knott House, effectively ending slavery in the state. As a result, many Floridians celebrate May 20th as Emancipation Day.
A month later, on June 18th, Union General Gordon Granger landed at Galveston with 2,000 soldiers to occupy Texas. The following day, June 19th, he announced the Emancipation Proclamation from the balcony of the Ashton Villa. Consequently, emancipation is generally celebrated in Texas on June 19th.
Over the next months, the Union Army gradually established control of the Confederacy in States in rebellion, thus, the precise day of emancipation varied from one state to another. Florida was one of these states. Former slaves all over the south were quick to institute an annual celebration of their freedom. Today, Tallahassee and some other cities in the state continue to honor this tradition in recognition of Emancipation in Florida.
While we advocate and support observing all history, Emancipation Day in Florida, to be historically correct, should be acknowledged and celebrated on May 20th.
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