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Juneteenth: Historian sheds light on emancipation in Florida

Did you know emancipation in Florida predates Juneteenth?
Did you know emancipation in Florida predates Juneteenth? 03:32

MIAMI - Juneteenth is widely recognized as the longest-running emancipation celebration, yet it is important to acknowledge that various dates commemorating emancipation are observed throughout the South. 

While Juneteenth marks the moment when enslaved individuals in Texas were informed of their freedom, it's crucial to recognize that the narrative of emancipation in Florida predates this event and is characterized by a rich historical complexity.

For a deeper exploration into the historical context of emancipation in Florida, CBS News Miami spoke with Dr. Tameka Hobbs.

Dr. Hobbs is a historian, educator, author, and activist. She currently holds the position of Regional Manager at the African American Research Library and Cultural Center in Fort Lauderdale, Broward County.

"You can begin when Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, and it went into effect on January 1st, 1863. Those people who had been enslaved in areas that were under Federal control were freed immediately and so that applied not only to parts of Florida, Key West specifically and in east Florida but in many places along the South Carolina coast," said Hobbs.

This signifies that Florida's practice of commemorating emancipation precedes the widely recognized Juneteenth celebration by about two years. For close to 160 years, the 20th of May has been observed as Florida's emancipation day in various communities throughout the state, marking the liberation of the majority of Florida's enslaved population. This historical narrative is delved into in Hobbs' recently released documentary, "Before Juneteenth: Florida's Emancipations."

"I just think it's so important that this history does not get eclipsed with some of the today fan fair hype that's going on as it relates to emancipation. The observance, the historical date of May 20th, 1865 which is Emancipation Day, is what I grew up and others like me grew up knowing as the date when African Americans enslaved in Florida were freed from slavery," said Althemese Barnes in the documentary. She's the founder of the John Riley Museum.

Florida historians emphasize the critical significance of safeguarding the historical events and narratives that have unfolded within our state. Of particular importance are the commemorative celebrations and custom-keepers who have dedicated their efforts to ensuring that May 20th remains a vibrant annual observance in Florida.

"A lot of hearing about it came about because of Juneteenth. As Juneteenth became more popular and began to be observed more in different places around the country, that's when you started hearing about more than Texas. What about our story here in Florida? This was a very profound experience and something not to be brushed aside, something not to be a footnote in history," said Gene Tinnie a Visual Artist, also featured in the documentary. 

Hobbs underscores the collective significance of observances such as the 20th of May, Juneteenth, and the 4th of July. She says they each play a vital role in shaping our national historical narrative. She says these commemorations together, serve as poignant reminders that the journey to freedom within American democracy was marked by varying timelines, complexities, and experiences, and the pursuit of liberty was multifaceted.

The documentary sheds light on the pivotal role of culture-keepers throughout diverse communities in Florida, and their efforts to uphold the traditions of emancipation. Ensuring that the rich legacy of liberation remains vibrant within the fabric of Florida. 

Click here for a link to watch the full documentary "Before Juneteenth: Florida's Emancipations." 

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