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.
News of emancipation and the war’s official end did not reach Texas until the next month. 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.
Juneteenth celebrations are not limited to Texas, however. The tradition of celebrating the end of slavery on June 19th has spread to many communities in other states, including some in Florida. There has even been a movement to make June 19th a national holiday for commemorating emancipation.
Search the Florida Photographic Collection to find more photos of emancipation celebrations across the Sunshine State!