Source: Spady Museum E-newsletter
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, Clifton Lewis, historian of the Florida African American Heritage Preservation Network, notes that since those who enslaved African descendants refused to acknowledge Abraham Lincoln as their President, enslaved people 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 10. On May 20, 1865, 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 20 as Emancipation Day.
A month later, on June 18, 1865, Union General Gordon Granger landed at Galveston with 2,000 soldiers to occupy Texas. The following day, June 19, he announced the Emancipation Proclamation from the balcony of the Ashton Villa. Consequently, emancipation is generally celebrated in Texas on June 19. 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.
Formerly enslaved people 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.
WANT TO LEARN MORE?
Download this .PDF and read about Florida’s history and the emancipation of enslaved people who lived in the state.