Florida Emancipation Day Celebration at the Cotton Club Museum and Cultural Center
Emancipation Day celebrations were an important part of black culture in the early 20th century.
“We owe it to our ancestors to appreciate that Florida slaves carry on the legacy and live through them from the legacy they left for us,” said longtime community activist, well-known storyteller Vivian Filer. -beloved and one of the remaining. matriarchs of Gainesville’s black community as she spoke Friday at a Florida Emancipation Day celebration held at the Cotton Club Museum and Cultural Center in southeast Gainesville.
On May 20, 1865, Union Brigadier General Edward M. McCook officially announced President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation in Tallahassee, the state capital of Florida.
A month later, on June 19, Union General Gordon Granger announced the Emancipation Proclamation in Galveston, Texas. After the news, black communities widely recognized the day as June 19, as all enslaved Africans in America were finally free two years after Lincoln signed the historic proclamation on January 1, 1863.
The Cotton Club is working with other Florida museums to highlight the significance of May 20 with help from the Florida African American Heritage Preservation Network.
“Across the state, we’re all pushing for May 20 to be remembered,” Filer said. “It’s a day of pride and remembrance and our goal one day is to have a parade to make it big.”
Deloris Rentz, financial secretary, historian and event planner for the Cotton Club, welcomed the audience.
“It is my wish and I hope you will be inspired, educated and entertained,” Rentz said.
The celebration also included a drum performance by Kofi Horne.
“The drums tell us to listen and pay attention,” Horne said. “Our history and our culture are embedded in everything. There are three parts to drumming: mind, body, and spirit. As a drummer, you keep the heartbeat of the community beating.”
Rentz also talked about the importance of the drum and said slave owners forbade the use of drums by slaves because they (the slave owners) knew it was a way for slaves to communicate between them.
Florida’s emancipation in recent years was celebrated with parades and picnics where large numbers of people gathered to enjoy fellowship with each other and schools would be closed in honor of the day, Rentz said.
May 20 also gives people an opportunity to remember fallen soldiers during the Civil War, Rentz said.
“It was a time when African American soldiers who served in the Civil War were honored,” Rentz said. “People would come to the cemetery where the soldiers were buried and lay flowers on the graves.”
Approximately 12 members of the public received a rose and were asked to place each rose in a vase on stage in remembrance of fallen soldiers.
Felicia Walton recited Sojourner Truth’s poem titled “Ain’t IA Woman?” and Bridgette Hogan gave a spoken word performance.
Hogan said Filer was his godmother and mentor in storytelling and poetry.
“She gave me the gift of poetry,” Hogan said. “It’s wonderful to be here, especially on this occasion. Poets are the speakers of the streets. Poetry has given people the voice to share the struggle.”
Closing remarks were made by Rentz.
“Think of those who came before us and how they had faith in God,” Rentz said. “They struggled and persevered and so did we.”