2015 Festival of Freedom: 150 Years of Florida Emancipation
By Janelle Floyd
Leon County government is celebrating the 2015 Festival of Freedom. This year marked 150 years of Emancipation in Florida, with local events including presentations, lectures and a two-week-long book display.
Emancipation Day is celebrated May 20 every year, commemorating the official end of slavery in the United States. The Proclamation was issued by U.S. president Abraham Lincoln in 1863 but was not sanctioned in Florida until May 1865. Union General Edward McCook declared it official by reading the proclamation on the steps of the Knott House.
As part of the Festival of Freedom, the Leon County Public Library hosted Andrea L. Oliver, assistant professor of history at Tallahassee Community College. Oliver, a native of Greenville, is a graduate of Florida State University.
Her presentation, “Facets and Faces of Freedom in Florida: Joyous Expressions of Jubilee in Florida,” incorporated what the promise of Reconstruction held in the past and the various expressions of freedom by local African-Americans.
“The stories of this particular time in history are not stories that are well known by most people,” Oliver said. “I think it is important for people to know there is a legacy of involvement, legacy of participation and it is born out of a legacy of strength.”
Oliver emphasized that it took a while for the results of the Proclamation to take hold and even longer for the establishment of equal rights for African-Americans. She talked about how far African-Americans have come in 150 years, but as a community, still have further to go.
Throughout the Festival of Freedom, the library will display various books on emancipation, civil rights and early Tallahassee.
Cay Hohmeister, Leroy County Public Library Director, explained the importance of having this event at the library.
“The celebration of the Emancipation Proclamation is a city-wide event of great importance for all of us,” Hohmeister said. “And the library is a forum of ideas, discussion and materials, so here we all are enjoying that.”
Even though the festival is a widely celebrated event, for some audience members they just happened to walk by.
“I was just coming to the library to listen to music and I saw that Dr. Oliver was speaking,” Tallahassee resident Kim Williams said. “I was curious and my curiosity was piqued strictly by her lecture title.”
Oliver wanted those in attendance to feel empowered.
“Despite the obstacles, we as people are survivors and strong,” Oliver said. “Should those obstacles be put in our way in the first place? No, they shouldn’t.”
“But they are there and we have to surmount them.”