Celebrate Florida’s Emancipation Day

The City of Tallahassee recognizes May 20 as Florida’s Emancipation Day, and throughout the month, there are many ways for residents to commemorate this pivotal moment and learn. The 20th of May – Emancipation in Florida programs, presented by the Knott House Museum and the City’s John G. Riley Center/Museum, include a variety of free events:

Saturday, May 11

  • 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. – “Walk Through Living History” at Speed-Spencer-Stephens Park, 1907 Saxon Street. This living history celebration and commemoration of the reading of the Emancipation Proclamation in the State of Florida is a family-friendly event for all ages. It is hosted by the 2nd Infantry Regiment U.S. Colored Troops Living History Association.

Friday, May 17

  • 7-11 p.m. – Second annual Freedom’s Eve Emancipation Concert at The Adderley Amphitheater in Cascades Park, 1001 S. Gadsden Street. Enjoy an evening of celebration and music with the Tallahassee Symphony Orchestra (TSO) featuring guest conductor Chelsea Tipton II and local gospel group Jay Williams and Total Praise. Pre-concert activities and food trucks begin at 5:30 p.m. The TSO concert begins at 8 p.m. Admission is free.

Monday, May 20

  • 10 a.m. – John G. Riley Center/Museum Civil War Commemorative Service at Old City Cemetery, 400 W. Park Ave. Local schoolkids and the public will decorate the graves of Black Civil War soldiers.
  • 11 a.m. – Church bells in Tallahassee will ring for two minutes to celebrate Florida’s Emancipation Day.
  • 11:30 a.m. – Dramatic reading of the Emancipation Proclamation on the steps of the Knott House Museum, 301 E. Park Avenue. In the place where the Emancipation Proclamation was first read in Florida, this year’s program features Reginald Ellis, Ph.D., Provost Professor at Florida A&M University, and the Mina String Quartet from the Tallahassee Symphony Orchestra. Free lunch and family-friendly activities will follow across the street in Lewis Park.

On May 20, 1865, the Emancipation Proclamation was first read on the steps of the Knott House by General Edward McCook. That was when the enslaved in Florida learned they were free – two years after the document was issued by President Abraham Lincoln.

The Tallahassee City Commission approved May 20 as a paid holiday for City employees in November 2020. This year’s Emancipation Day holiday falls on a Monday, so it will be observed by the City on Monday, May 20. Visit Talgov.com closer to the holiday for information about City service schedule impacts.

For more information about these and other Emancipation Day events, visit 20thofMay.com or call the City’s John G. Riley Center/Museum at 850-891-3560.