Emancipation Holidays

National Freedom Day (Feb 1)

In 1949, the United States Congress and President Harry Truman created National Freedom Day – an annual commemoration of the day President Lincoln ceremoniously endorsed a proposed constitutional amendment that would outlaw slavery nationwide. The observance originated in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania under the guidance of an eighty-year-old freedman named Maj. Richard Robert Wright, Sr. This non-paid holiday occurs annually on February 1. The date makes this observance a great beginning to Black History Month, but that intersection was not intentional.

Eight o’ May (Mississippi)

Some communities in Mississippi celebrate Emancipation Day on May 8. On that day in 1865, enslaved Africans in eastern Mississippi learned of their freedom.

Emancipation Day (Florida)

In Florida, slavery formally ended on May 20, 1865. On that day, General Edward McCook publicly read the Emancipation Proclamation at a mansion the Hagner House (now called the Knott House Museum). This building served as temporary headquarters of the Union Army in Florida. Annually, Floridians celebrate Emancipation Day on May 20. In 1991, Florida became the second state to legislate observance of June 19 as a day to commemorate emancipation.

Emancipation Day (Georgia)

Since 1866, an Emancipation Day celebration has been held in Thomston, Georgia. The event occurs on the Saturday closes to May 19. As this predates June 19, it could be the second continuous observance of emancipation. The first would be Watchnight.

Emancipation Day (Kentucky)

The State of Kentucky was exempted from the Emancipation Proclamation. Therefore, slavery remained lawful there, after the Civil War. On December 6, 1865, ratification of the proposed Thirteenth Amendment outlawed slavery and freed everyone who remained enslaved in Kentucky. Even so, in several Kentucky counties Emancipation Day is celebrated on August 8. Reportedly, this was the day enslaved Africans in those counties received news of freedom.

Emancipation Day (Texas)

In 1879, the Texas legislature acknowledged June 19th as a day of celebration. One hundred years later (1979), the Texas legislature established June 19 (a.k.a. Juneteenth) as a state holiday officially named Emancipation Day. The holiday celebrates the day Major General Gordon Granger authorized issuance of General Order No. 3. Prior to June 19th becoming a national holiday, 48 states and the District of Columbia acknowledged the date as “Juneteenth”. Ironically, Texas is the only jurisdiction whose holiday legislation does not include the word “Juneteenth”. South Dakota acknowledged the date immediately after it became a national holiday.

Emancipation Day (Washington, D.C.)

On April 16th annually, Washington, D.C. celebrates Emancipation Day. The holiday commemorates the day in 1862 when President Abraham Lincoln signed the Compensated Emancipation Act which freed enslaved Africans in the District of Columbia.

Juneteenth National Independence Day (June 19)

America’s newest national holiday began as a proposed non-paid holiday to be called “Juneteenth National Freedom Day”. The first two legislative attempts failed. The third attempt passed and was signed into law by President Joseph Biden. Contrary to continuous news reports, this holiday is not an extension of Texas Emancipation Day. Rather, it is a symbolic celebration that generically commemorates emancipation nationwide, regardless of when or where it happened. Nothing of national significance happened on June 19, 1865. Example: legal slavery did not end on June 19th. Therefore, there is no reason to lift that celebration above emancipation in other states.

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