Emancipation Celebration Day festival returning to Jacksonville

Event to take place Saturday, May 21, at James Weldon Johnson Park

The city of Jacksonville will celebrate Emancipation Day with a festival planned downtown at James Weldon Johnson Park. This is part of an effort to educate the community on what this day means.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The Emancipation Celebration Day will return to Jacksonville this year.

The announcement was made this week by Jacksonville City Councilwoman Ju’Coby Pittman, James Weldon Johnson Park and the city.

The festival will take place on Saturday, May 21, at James Weldon Johnson Park on West Monroe Street in downtown Jacksonville in an effort to educate the community about the historical significance of Florida’s observed Emancipation Day. It will begin at 4 p.m. and end at 9 p.m.

“Emancipation was proclaimed in Florida on May 20, 1865, and the City of Jacksonville recognizes the significance that has made for our community,” Mayor Lenny Curry said in a news release Tuesday. “We’re excited and humbled to support James Weldon Johnson Park as we celebrate this day together with a fun festival for the community.”

The event will be hosted by Rahman Johnson, National Anchor for the Black Information Network and award-winning author, actor and journalist.

Paris Winningham, who appeared on “The Voice,” will headline the festival’s entertainment. Other performers will include Jacksonville Arts and Music School, Taryn “Love Reigns” Warwood, Mal Jones, representatives of the Jacksonville Gullah Geechee Nation and MJbaker.

Guest speakers for the program include Carol J. Alexander, President, MaBu, Cultural Resource Company; Ms. Sharon Coon, Founder of the Friends of Brentwood Library; Dr. Saundra Morene, Jacksonville Gullah Geechee Nation; Adonnica Toler, Historian; and the Honorable Rhonda Peoples-Waters. The invocation will be given by Pastor Kennetta Carter of the Greater Payne AME.

In addition, Jacksonville’s Emancipation Celebration Day will feature local African American food trucks such as Fae’s BBQ, Hook ‘Em Up Seafood, Snack Boyz Sol-Caribbean and Cake Queen.

The festival will include more than 15 local vendors and fun activities for children.

Local historical organizations will also lend their expertise to weave educational stories throughout the performances and activities.

“As a community, we are recognizing the past wrongs and injustices with a celebration of unity with a profound purpose. As we continue to celebrate as a community, we still have work to do together,” Pittman said in the release.

Jacksonville City Councilwoman Ju’Coby Pittman and Eartha White Museum Director Adonnica Toler spoke with News4JAX on Friday. (Copyright 2022 by WJXT News4JAX - All rights reserved.)

News4JAX also spoke with Pittman and Eartha White Museum Director Adonnica Toleron on Friday when a news conference was held about the city’s Emancipation Celebration Day.

Pittman talked about the importance of Emancipation Day being remembered.

“It’s important because Jacksonville was a part of it in 1865, and today, commemoration was to get our city of Jacksonville involved and all the entities that celebrated with us last year,” Pittman said. “And so for me to come back and host it and get individuals who respect this particular day, it was important and especially doing it in City Hall, in front, of where we’re having the event on tomorrow.”

And Toleron spoke on the city’s role in Emancipation.

“So Jacksonville is a big part because it was the base for the Black soldiers that were here, that led and fought in Olustee and led the charge in protecting and helping to free the slaves once the proclamation was read,” Toleron said. “So Jacksonville is a big part of that legacy, and it’s important that the community understands where we fit in history.”

Pittman added that there’s more work to be done.

The city of Jacksonville will celebrate Emancipation Day, with a festival planned downtown, at James Weldon Johnson Park. City Council Member Ju'Coby Pittman joins us to talk about today's celebration, and share why it's important.

“There were a lot of disparities, and even today, there are still disparities, and we have a lot of work to do. I think it’s important that we discuss it and that we also come up with solutions and not continue to complain about what has happened, but how do we work together as a community,” Pittman said. “You know, we’re celebrating the bicentennial, and it’s important that the African American history is addressed in there. And I think that’s what we’re doing.”

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 to free those enslaved in Southern states.

On May 10, 1865, Union General Edward M. McCook arrived in Tallahassee to receive the surrender of Florida’s Confederate troops. On May 20, 1865, McCook formally announced Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, effectively ending slavery in the state.

While many people celebrate Juneteenth, Florida celebrates May 20 as its Emancipation Day.

For more information about Jacksonville’s Emancipation Celebration, visit JamesWeldonJohnsonPark.org.

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Joe covers education and breaking news. He is a frequent contributor to the News4Jax I-team and Trust Index coverage.