Hill family Emancipation Day celebration

“Our Ancestors Are Talking to Us”: Celebrating Emancipation Day in Florida’s Big Bend

by Natalie King-Pedroso, PhD

The legacy of Emancipation Day, also known as “the 20th of May,” has existed over 150 years in many North Florida communities with their large concentrations of descendant populations of the formerly enslaved. That sacred moment in the history of the state honors the arrival of General Edward McCook and Union troops in Tallahassee, as well as the historic announcement from his temporary quarters at the Hagner House—known today as the Knott House—on the “day that freedom cried”: May 20, 1865…Read More

Negro Emancipation Jubilee article, Key West 1863

Emancipation at Key West

by Corey Malcom, PhD

Key West’s slavery and emancipation story is quite different from those of other parts of Florida. From first settlement in 1822, slavery was a part of Florida Keys culture, and by 1860, of 2,913 people at Key West, 451 of them were enslaved. But, as the islands were too small to support large-scale agriculture, the Florida Keys never developed a plantation economy. Instead, the enslaved were often forced to work as domestic servants and mariners. But surprisingly, the largest single employer of slave labor in the Keys was the US government, which utilized bondsmen in the construction of Fort Taylor on Key West and Fort Jefferson at the Dry Tortugas. For many years, Key West slave owners rented their people to the Army Corps of Engineers to help build the large masonry structures…Read More