Jim Crow Museum
1010 Campus Drive
Big Rapids, MI 49307
Q: Is Juneteenth the right name for the celebration of emancipation?
~F. Rose, North Carolina
I recently had the pleasure of attending the Association of African American Museums conference in Nashville, Tennessee. During the conference, I attended the session Before Juneteenth: Emancipation Celebrations in Florida, presented by Kiah Asabea, Pasha Baker, and Dr. Tameka Bradley Hobbs. The session explored some of the complex realities of Emancipation in the United States. There are different dates acknowledging Emancipation in Florida. For instance, many coastal areas of Florida were occupied by Union troops via the Anaconda Plan blockade; therefore, the enslaved people were freed on January 1, 1863. Meanwhile, inner areas of Florida were still controlled by the Confederacy and were not emancipated until later.
The Emancipation Proclamation, which took effect on January 1, 1863, declared "that all persons held as slaves" within the rebellious states during the Civil War "are, and henceforth shall be free." It applied only to states that had seceded from the United States, leaving slavery untouched in the loyal border states. It did not apply to enslaved people in the border states of Missouri, Kentucky, Delaware, and Maryland, which had not joined the Confederacy. President Lincoln exempted the border states from the proclamation because he didn't want to tempt them into joining the Confederacy. The passing of the 13th Amendment on December 6, 1865, officially abolished slavery in every state.
Asabea, Baker, and Hobbs presented primary source evidence to show that many regions in Florida have celebrated May 20, 1865, as “Emancipation Day.” That celebration dates back for nearly 160 years. The May 20th celebrations are an important part of African American culture for the celebrants. Although Asabea, Baker, and Hobbs realize the importance of the Federal recognition of Juneteenth, there is a concern that other emancipation dates may be overshadowed. These three scholars have developed a website to preserve this history and are working on a documentary that commemorates the Emancipation Day celebrations in Florida.
In addition to the work done by Asabea, Baker, and Hobbs, there is also scholarship being done by Kris Manjapra, a professor at Tufts University. In the article “Juneteenth Celebrates Just One of the U.S.’s 20 Emancipation Days,” Manjapra explores other dates of emancipation, including Maryland’s November 1, 1864, Virginia’s April 3, 1865, Mississippi’s May 8, 1865, Georgia’s May 29, 1865, and August 8, 1865, which is the Emancipation Day for areas of Tennessee and Kentucky. In his book Black Ghost Empire, Manjapra documents over 80 emancipations from Pennsylvania to Sierra Leone between 1780 to 1936.
All this work is essential and needs to be a part of the United States history narrative.
Now, back to the Juneteenth question, yes, Juneteenth should be recognized and celebrated, but singling out only June 19th is narrow in some ways. From Pennsylvania’s 1780 emancipation date to the Haitian independence revolution of 1804 to Florida’s 20th of May, and Texas’ Juneteenth date, emancipation dates and celebrations are essential to the history and culture of African Americans. I think calling the Federal Holiday “Emancipation Day” would be more inclusive and accurate to commemorate this country’s emancipation days. It is not to diminish Juneteenth, but it is important to accurately tell the broader story.
Jim Crow Museum
The 20th of May: The History and Heritage of Florida’s Emancipation Day Digital History Project | The 20th of May: The History and Heritage of Florida’s Emancipation Day Digital History Project. (n.d.). https://floridaemancipationmay20.com/
Manjapra, K. (2022). Juneteenth celebrates just one of the U.S.’ 20 emancipation days. The history of how emancipated people were kept unfree needs to be remembered, too. Government Executive. https://www.govexec.com/workforce/2022/06/juneteenth-united-states-20-emancipation-days-history-emancipated-unfree-remembered/368269/
Black Ghost of Empire. (n.d.). Book by Kris Manjapra | Official Publisher Page | Simon & Schuster. https://www.simonandschuster.com/books/Black-Ghost-of-Empire/Kris-Manjapra/9781982123475