Emancipation and Reconstruction in Florida

 Every May 20, Florida celebrates Emancipation Day. Emancipation was proclaimed in Tallahassee on May 20, 1865, 11 days after the end of the Civil War and two years after the proclamation was first issued by President Abraham Lincoln.

 

June 19th is celebrated in many parts of the United States as “Juneteenth,” to commemorate the end of slavery after the Civil War. Many Floridians, however, celebrate a separate Emancipation Day on May 20th. So… which date is correct, May 20th or June 19th? In taking a look at the history of these celebrations, we see that the answer is… both.

In today’s world, news of a single event can be transmitted across the planet in seconds. Social media, satellite telecommunications, and the Internet in general have all but erased the meaning of distance when it comes to getting an important message from point A to point B.

This was not the case in 1865, when the Civil War was coming to an end. Many telegraph lines had been destroyed during the conflict, and news about the war was often either incorrect or contradictory. 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.

In Florida, the process began in May 1865. Union 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.

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