TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – On this day 156 years ago, the Emancipation Proclamation was read aloud in Florida’s capital city, officially ending slavery in the state.
Each year, the day is recognized for its historical significance to the state, but an effort to make it a legal state holiday failed to cross the finish line this year.
On the steps of the Historic Knott House, the Emancipation Proclamation was read aloud by a Union general on May 20, 1865, two years after it was signed by then-President Abraham Lincoln.
Each year on May 20, ceremonies are held throughout the state recognizing the anniversary of the end of slavery in Florida. This year, though, it was June 19 that lawmakers sought to make a state holiday.
“Juneteenth commemorates the traditional observance of the end of slavery in the United States, when news of the Emancipation Proclamation reached African Americans living in Galveston, Texas,” said State Sen. Randolph Bracy while presenting the bill in a March committee meeting.
While the Juneteenth holiday is recognized in 46 states, in Florida there was resistance from historians, who argued that Juneteenth has nothing to do with the Sunshine State.
“Texas didn’t jump up and down to say, ‘Wow, let’s celebrate with Florida.’ So, why should Florida jump up and down and celebrate with Texas?” said Sgt. Major Jarvis V. Rosier with the 2nd Infantry Regiment of the US Colored Troops Living History Association.
As the bill progressed, Juneteenth was changed to a legal holiday instead of a paid holiday. May 20, Florida’s Emancipation Day, was also added into the bill as a separate state holiday. But the legislation never crossed the finish line, dying in messages between the chambers in the waning days of session.
State Sen. Bracy said he feels better about the legislation’s chances next year. “Now that the Legislature has seen and heard about Emancipation Day, Juneteenth, I think we’ll have a much better chance of passing it through the House,” he said.
So while neither May 20 or Juneteenth may be legal holidays here in Florida for now, the historical significance of May 20 continues to draw Floridians together to commemorate the end of a dark chapter in the state’s history.