Celebrating Freedom: May 20 Florida Emancipation Day
Thursday, May 20, 2021
Orange County NAACP president Tiffany Hughes at the Ocoee city commission meeting on May18. Ocoee is one of nine cities in Orange County that have so far issued proclamations proclaiming May 20 Florida Emancipation Day.
In Florida, Juneteenth, the national celebration of the end of Black enslavement, gets celebrated twice: On June 19, which is when, in 1865, two years after the Emancipation Proclamation was issued, Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston, Texas, to inform the last of the enslaved people to hear it, that they were freed.
Florida’s enslaved population learned the news a month earlier on May 20. Union Brig. Gen. Edward M. Cook had arrived in Tallahassee to assume control of the city after the Civil War. He read out from the Emancipation Proclamation that "all persons held as slaves … shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free…”
These days, Tiffany Hughes, president of the Orange County branch of the NAACP, is making sure Orange County's cities got the memo. She's visiting all of the county’s cities, collecting proclamations that officially name May 20 as Florida Emancipation Day.
VoxPopuli talked with Hughes about the importance of marking this historical event.
Norine Dworkin: Two years is long time for news to travel. Do you think news of the Emancipation Proclamation was purposefully delayed or did news just travel slowly?
Tiffany Hughes: Perhaps a little bit of both. I can’t say why in 1865 news got from what is now known as Washington D..C to Florida two years and 11 days later. We just say it got there very slowly.
ND: Your mission is to get every city in Orange County that issues proclamations to issue one for Florida Emancipation Day. Why was that important?
TH: We celebrate Juneteenth as a national day of freedom, and we wanted to make sure as a Florida NAACP that we also recognized the history that is specific to Florida. The proclamations are to ensure that cities acknowledge the horrific treatment of Black enslaved citizens and celebrate 156 years of “freedom.”
ND: How many cities have issued proclamations so far?
TH: Right now we’re at 9 of 14. Apopka, Edgewood, Eatonville, Winter Garden, Ocoee, Maitland, Winter Park, Orange County Government and City of Orlando. (Bay Lake and Lake Buena Vista don’t issue proclamations.)
ND: Collecting these proclamations from the cities at this particular moment in time feels important. America is grappling with racial inequities. It took the murder of George Floyd for white people to start to see the systemic and institutional racism that’s built into our society. So this moment seems ripe to ensure that we know about Florida’s Black history.
TH: This moment like so many other moments in history is really a turning point for our nation to recognize all that has happened and really take the necessary steps to make change. And that’s what the Orange County branch of the NAACP is trying to do. Make steps forward, partner within the community, educate our community, whether it be civil rights or health or environmental justice.
This particular proclamation really just felt true to the precedent we wanted to set as an executive committee, to remember our history and to celebrate our formerly enslaved people, their families and how far we have come, but to also remember how far we really have to go.
History is as it is. Let’s remember it. Let’s move forward from it. Let’s do our best to advocate for civil rights, and celebrate the freedom that came from that.