STUART, Fla. — On Thursday, some cities across our state are pausing for Emancipation Day. In 1865, Black slaves in Florida learned they were free two years after President Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation.
While most in the U.S. will celebrate the end of slavery with the holiday Juneteenth, historians and the NAACP in Martin County are advocating for Emancipation Day* to be celebrated across Florida on May 20.
Inside the Stuart Heritage Museum, you can trace a lot of roots. And given today’s tour are two people with veins that run deep.
”My father had a lumber yard here in Stuart for 50 years and we employed about 10 black workers,” said Gloria Cabre Fike, whose family have lived in Martin County since the 1920s. “They filled a lot of gaps.”
Mary Walton Jones, the museum's executive director says they were possibly descendants of slaves from north Florida who helped build Stuart and created a new life in East Stuart.
”They came here. They cleared a lot of the land,” said Jones. “They did a lot of the hard labor that other people didn’t do. So it was very important.”
But this story isn’t focused on legacy and contributions, only but the actual day Florida slaves were freed.
“May 20. That should be it,” added Fike. Most people know on January 1, 1863, President Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, freeing enslaved people but it wasn’t until May 1865, that Union Brig. Gen. Edward M. McCook arrived in Tallahassee to declare the Emancipation Proclamation in effect in Florida.
”It’s special. And it’s going to signify different things to different people,” said Stuart Mayor Eula Clarke. “It’s in the books.”
She joins mayors in Tallahassee and Jacksonville who celebrate Emancipation Day on May 20.
On Thursday evening Mayor Clarke and Martin County’s NAACP held a commemorative ceremony in East Stuart with an official reading of the Emancipation Proclamation. They call it a new tradition with historical value.
”It’s significant. The date matters” said Jimmy Smith, NAACP Martin County president. “Look at where we come from and what we’re still going through.” ”There also should be a push to have our legislature recognize one day,” added Mayor Clarke.
Florida’s Senate Bill 490 would make Juneteenth a legal holiday, but there’s still nothing on the books for Emancipation Day.
To learn more about Emancipation Day, click here.