Para español, seleccione de la lista

20th of May

Emancipation in Florida

20th of May Logo

On January 1, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, freeing enslaved people in the rebelling Southern states. More than two years later, on May 10, 1865, Union General Edward McCook arrived in Tallahassee to take possession of the city from Southern forces. General McCook established his headquarters at the Hagner House, now known as the Knott House. On May 20, he declared the Emancipation Proclamation in effect. Former slaves celebrated this announcement with a picnic at Bull Pond, today's Lake Ella. Annually since 1865, communities in Tallahassee have celebrated May 20th as Emancipation Day, and today, activities still are held throughout the city. All 20th of May activities listed below are free unless a charge is noted.

Tallahassee event dates and locations

To download a flyer for 20th of May events click here.

To view an interactive map of events click here.

May 1–31

John G. Riley Museum, 419 East Jefferson Street; 850.681.7881

African American history exhibits, 10:00 a.m.–4:00 p.m.

The John G. Riley Museum is a beautiful 19th century structure that embodies the legacy of one of Tallahassee’s most influential leaders of his generation. Open Monday–Thursday from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. and Friday–Saturday from 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. Admission is $5.00 for adults and children.


Florida Historic Capitol Museum, 400 South Monroe Street; 850.487.1902

Voices and Votes: Democracy in America, a Smithsonian Museum on Main Street Exhibition, Monday–Friday: 9:00 a.m.–4:30 p.m.; Saturdays: 10:00 a.m.–4:30 p.m.; Sundays: Noon–4:30 p.m.

Voices and Votes: Democracy in America is a traveling exhibit from the Smithsonian Museum on Main Street (MoMS) program and is based on a major exhibition currently on display at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History. This Museum on Main Street adaptation will have many of the same dynamic features, including historical and contemporary audio visual and multimedia content telling the story of democracy in America.


LeRoy Collins Leon County Library branches, 200 West Park Avenue; 850.606.2665. Historical book displays at all branches, see addresses and hours on the library’s website.  

Books about emancipation, early Tallahassee, and civil rights will be on display at all branches of the LeRoy Collins Leon County Public Library System. Visit the library to find books in your area of interest.


Division of Library and Information Services; various resources on the Division of Library and Information Services’ website.

This link provides some highlighted resources related to Emancipation and Reconstruction in Florida.


Saturday May 2

The Grove Museum Backyard Discovery, 902 North Monroe Street; 850.363.5688. Forgotten Foodways Family Program, 1:00–3:00 p.m. (come and go)

Backyard Discovery connects you to the natural and cultural history of the site through hands-on science activities geared towards families with elementary and middle school aged children. May's program will explore the African origins of southern cuisine. Be prepared to be outdoors, wear closed-toed shoes, and bring along sunscreen and bug spray. This program is free and open to the public.

Saturday, May 9

Speed Spencer Stephens Park, 1907 Saxon Street

Walk through Living History, 9:00 a.m.–4:00p.m.

A family-friendly parade is followed by the “Walk through Living History” program in the park. The 2nd Infantry Regiment United States Colored Troop and Living History Association (USCT) hosts with reenactors representing the USCT, Buffalo Soldiers, and others.


Wednesday, May 13

The Grove Museum Storytime, 902 North Monroe Street; 850.363.5688

African American history book and activities for young children,10:00–11:00 a.m.

Storytime features read-aloud children's books and activities geared towards ages 8 and under. May's program will include books and activities for children related to emancipation and African American history.


Walker-Ford Community Center, 2301 Pasco Street; 850.891.3970

Celebrity volleyball, 7:00 p.m.


Thursday, May 14

Walker-Ford Community Center, 2301 Pasco Street; 850.891.3970

Teen Development Workshop, 7:00 p.m.


Friday, May 15

Smith Williams Service Center, 2295 Pasco Street; 850.891.1860

Senior Picnic next door at Walker-Ford Center, 10:00 a.m.–1:00 p.m.

Smith-Williams Service Center Senior Spring-Fest and Outing includes games and a fish-fry for people over 55 years. Suggested donation is $3.00. The event will be held next door at the Walker-Ford Community Center.


Walker-Ford Community Center, 2301 Pasco Street; 850.891.3970

Gospel Extravaganza under the Stars, 6:00–8:00 p.m.


Saturday, May 16

Smith-Williams Service Center, 2295 Pasco Street; 850.891.1860

Capital City Garden Club Flower Show, 8:00 a.m.–4:00 p.m.


Walker-Ford Community Center, 2301 Pasco Street; 850.891.3970

Community celebration and bazaar, 10:00 a.m.–5:00 p.m.


The Grove Museum Nature Walk, 902 North Monroe Street; 850.F

African American impact on the Red Hills, 10:30 a.m.–noon

Join the museum's Naturalist for a guided walk around the grounds focusing on natural history, ecology, and sustainability. May's program will focus on African American contributions to the environmental history of the Red Hills Region. This program is free and open to the public.


Tuesday, May 19

Museum of Florida History, 500 South Bronough Street; 850.245.6400

The Chronicles of Adam, a living history presentation, 6:00 p.m.

The Chronicles of Adam is a stirring presentation that features first-person living history interpreter Dontavius Williams portraying Adam, an enslaved African American. Adam is based on a real person from antebellum South Carolina and Mr. Williams uses historical accounts and personal experiences to bring his story to life.


Wednesday, May 20

Old City Cemetery, 400 West Park Avenue

Civil War Grave Decorating Ceremony, 10:00 a.m.

John G. Riley Museum staff leads a Civil War Grave Decorating Commemorative Service, dating back to the 1880s. The program is sponsored by the Florida African American Heritage Preservation Network.


Knott House Museum, 301 East Park Avenue; 850.922.2459

Dramatic reading and picnic, 11:30 a.m.

A public ceremony commemorating the freeing of enslaved persons in Florida. A dramatic reading of the Emancipation Proclamation, music, and reenactors are followed by a picnic and family activities in Lewis Park across from the historic site.


Tour of African American history sites

Open House at African American history sites, 2:00–4:00 p.m.

  • Black Archives at the Union Bank, 219 Apalachee Parkway; 850.561.2603
  • John G. Riley Museum, 419 East Jefferson Street; 850.681.7881
  • Knott House Museum, 301 East Park Avenue; 850.922.2459
  • Museum of Florida History, 500 South Bronough Street; 850.245.6400
  • Taylor House Museum of Historic Frenchtown, 442 Georgia Street; 850.222.6111
  • The Grove Museum, 902 North Monroe Street; 850.363.5688.


The Grove Museum History Happy Hour, 902 North Monroe Street; 850.363.5688. Slavery and Freedom in Tallahassee, 5:30–7:30 p.m.

History Happy Hour is your chance to visit the museum after-hours to enjoy a conversation focusing on interpreting historical landscapes tied to slavery and freedom in Tallahassee history. This is a ticketed event, $10 for members and their guests, $15 for non-members. Ticket purchase includes program, appetizers, and beverages. Purchase tickets on Eventbrite, or email to purchase tickets offline.


Thursday, May 21

Florida Historic Capitol Museum, 400 South Monroe Street; 850.487.1902

Emancipation Betrayed, reception, talk, and book signing with Dr. Paul Ortiz; 5:30 – 7:30 p.m.

For suffragists, the 1920 election was a jubilant moment as women were first nationally recognized as voters. But as the 19th amendment was implemented in Florida, racist Jim Crow laws prevented black men and women from having their voices heard at the ballot box. Join the Florida Historic Capitol Museum and Florida Humanities as Dr. Paul Ortiz, Director of the University of Florida’s Samuel Proctor Oral History Program, shares his research from Emancipation Betrayed: The Hidden History of Black Organizing and White Violence in Florida from Reconstruction to the Bloody Election o1920. Book signing and reception begin at 5:30; talk follows at 6:15. Books will be available to purchase. Arrive early to view the Smithsonian Museum on Main Street exhibition Voices & Votes: Democracy in America on display through June 13.

Friday, May 22

Tallahassee Museum, 3945 Museum Drive; 850.575.8684

Request free Emancipation guided tour, 9:00 a.m.–noon

Guided tours of Bellevue Plantation House, Concord School House, and Bethlehem Missionary Baptist Church. All three historic structures were part of the emancipation story in North Florida from slavery through reconstruction and beyond. Guests will receive free admission when requesting the emancipation tour.


Goodwood Museum & Gardens, 1600 Miccosukee Road, 850.877.4202

Invisible Lives Tour, Each hour from 12:00–4:00 p.m.

Invisible Lives Tours focus on the lives of the enslaved persons at Goodwood. This free public program shares new research and a more inclusive history with the community.


National Guard Armory, 1225 Easterwood Drive; 850.509.0295

Emancipation and Abolitionist Ball; 7:00–11:00 p.m.

“Emancipation and Abolitionist Ball” features the Leon Anderson Band. Purchase tickets for this fundraiser for the 2nd Infantry Regiment USCT and Living History Association for $50 each or $400 per table. For tickets, call 850.509.0295 or 850.681.7881.