Historians celebrate Florida’s Emancipation Day

Slavery became illegal in Florida on May 20, 1985

Black historians celebrate Florida’s Emancipation Day
Black historians celebrate Florida’s Emancipation Day

ORLANDO, Fla. – A group of mostly African American historians met outside of Orlando City Hall on Thursday to recognize May 20 as Florida’s Emancipation Day.

In Florida, the date was May 20, 1865 when Union Brigadier Gen. Edward McCook formally announced President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation from the steps of the Knott House in Tallahassee. That’s when slavery became illegal in the state. It’s earlier than the Juneteenth date in which slaves in Texas were informed on June 19, 1865, that they were free.

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Historians on Thursday dressed as members of the Third United States Colored Calvary, a regiment of the U.S. Army during the Civil War. It was a symbol that some men traveled alongside Gen. Edward McCook to Florida in 1865 to enforce that all slaves should be free. This happened after Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation two years before.

“This this is the day that the freedom bells rang in Florida,” said Richard Wilder, a historian with the Third United States Colored Calvary.

Wilder was one of many historians who wanted to recognize the importance of May 20 in Florida.

“The whole of Florida should celebrate, today is Emancipation Day May 20th,” Wilder said.

They wanted to clarify and educate Floridians that the emancipation in Florida is different than Juneteenth.

“A lot of people who try to celebrate the emancipation and one of the things they use is Juneteenth but that doesn’t apply to the state of Florida. Emancipation proclamation for the state of Florida is May 20th,” John Russell said.

Orlando city commissioner Bakari Burns helped organize the emancipation recognition event.

“Because we need to be factual when we’re teaching our next generation about the history and what has happened here in Florida,” Burns said.

This all comes after recent protests across Central Florida and as next week marks one year after George Floyd was killed.

“I think it’s an opportunity for us to have these discussions about what does emancipation truly mean to us and what do we need to do next,” Burns said.

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