History Center celebrates Florida Emancipation Days

The Tampa Bay History Center will host two significant events in May to mark the historical impact of the Emancipation Proclamation in Florida, starting with Tampa Emancipation Day on May 6, 2024.

Scheduled from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. at St. James at ENCORE®, located at 1202 North Governor Street, Tampa, this free community event promises an engaging program filled with music, food, and insightful research from the University of South Florida (USF). Keynote speakers for the evening include Dr. Elizabeth Horge-Freeman, Dr. Cheryl Rodriguez, and Dr. Tomaro Taylor from USF, alongside Fred Hearns, Curator of Black History at the Tampa Bay History Center.

A highlight of the event will be a special reading of the Emancipation Proclamation by several local dignitaries, aiming to foster a deeper connection to this pivotal moment in history. The list of readers includes Tampa City Council District 5 Council Member Gwendolyn Henderson, Tampa Housing Authority Board of Commissioners Commissioner Robert P. Edwards, Hillsborough County Board of County Commissioners District 3 Commissioner Gwen Myers, District 63 State Rep. Dianne Hart, Hillsborough County Public Schools District 5 Board Member Henry “Shake” Washington, Natajha Tompkins representing the University of South Florida Black Student Union, and Malachi Brown from the Afro-academic, Cultural, Technological and Scientific Olympics (ACT-SO).

The program also features performances by local artists and speakers, supported by partnerships with the Tampa Housing Authority, USF Racial Justice Initiative, and WEDU PBS.

Continuing the celebration, Florida Emancipation Day will take place at the Chinsegut Hill Historic Site located at 22495 Chinsegut Hill Road, Brooksville, Fla., on May 18, starting at 10 a.m. with discussions on the historical significance of the location by Dr. Gary Ellis and Rodney Kite-Powell, and commentary on local archaeological findings by Dr. Michael Jones. Dr. Jesse Pisors, President of Pasco-Hernando State College, will welcome guests to free hourly tours of the historic house, courtesy of the college, starting at 11 a.m.

About Florida Emancipation Day

On May 20, 1865, Florida officially emancipated its enslaved population in Tallahassee. Union Gen. Edward McCook read President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation from the steps of the Knott House at the state Capitol. This day marked the liberation of all enslaved Black individuals in Florida who had not yet been freed. 

Since then, May 20 has been observed as Florida Emancipation Day across various communities in the state. The federal holiday, Juneteenth, celebrated on June 19, commemorates a separate national day of emancipation.