BROOKSVILLE — Juneteenth is a federal holiday, with June 19 commemorating the emancipation of enslaved people throughout the United States.
Fred Hearns, the Tampa Bay History Center’s curator of Black history, is among those who would like May 21 to become a state holiday.
“We celebrate June 19 because June 19, 1865, was when Texas liberated its Black people,” Hearns said. “They were the last state to do that. Florida had liberated its enslaved almost a month earlier, on May 20, 1865. That should be a celebration here, too.”
So, Hearns and the history center are hosting one on Saturday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. at Brooksville’s Chinsegut Hill, the former site of a plantation that enslaved at least 60 people, Hearns said.
The event will feature historic reenactments, music and a reading of the Emancipation Proclamation.
It is free to attend, but there is a $5 charge for tours of historic house situated at 22495 Chinsegut Hill Road on a 114-acre preserve that is operated via a partnership between the history center and Hernando County.
The history center’s event is the first of what will become an annual celebration in Tampa Bay, Hearns said. “You have to give the people of Texas an A-plus for promoting their date. Florida has to do a better job of promoting our history.”
“Liberation came to Tampa a year before it came to the state,” Hearns said. “How many know that?”
With little resistance, the Union Army arrived in Tampa on May 5, 1864.
“There were not that many soldiers here,” Hearns said. “The ones who were here were overwhelmed by the large number of Union soldiers and Union sailors.”
The next day, the Union took Fort Brooke, the Confederate outpost located at the mouth of the Hillsborough River in what is today downtown Tampa.
The estimated 100 enslaved people in the city were freed.
The Union soldiers stayed for a few days, Hearns said, and then left to support battles elsewhere.
A year later, the Union arrived in Tallahassee, where the Emancipation Proclamation was read from the steps of what is currently a museum known as the Knott House, named for the family that purchased it in 1928.
The house “was constructed in 1843, probably by George Proctor, a free Black builder,” according to the museum’s website. “Immediately after the Civil War ended, Union Brigadier General Edward M. McCook used the house as his temporary headquarters when he occupied Tallahassee.”
According to the Florida Humanities Council’s website, “in 1860, on the eve of the Civil War, 44 percent of Florida’s 140,400 residents were” enslaved.
“Prior to the Union arriving, the Emancipation Proclamation was just a piece of paper,” Hearns said. “Once the Union took Tallahassee, it was enforced.”
If you go
Florida Emancipation Day Celebration
When: Saturday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.
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Where: 22495 Chinsegut Hill Road, Brooksville