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‘This Day Is a Day of Freedom’; Jacksonville Hosts Its First Emancipation Celebration

Sydney Boles

The Proclamation of Emancipation was issued in 1863, formally ending slavery across the country. But it wasn’t until two and a half years later, on May 20, 1865, that emancipation became a reality in Florida. More than 150 years later, the city of Jacksonville is hosting its inaugural emancipation celebration honoring freedom for African Americans. 

Sponsored by the City of Jacksonville, City Council Member Ju’Coby Pittman, and James Weldon Johnson Park, the emancipation celebration was a bright and noisy affair on Thursday around lunchtime. Jacksonville jazz and funk group Mama Blue was performing, while Black business owners welcomed passers-by into their booths. 

“As a community, we are recognizing the past wrongs and injustices with a celebration of unity with a profound purpose,” said Pittman in a news release. “As we continue to celebrate as a community, we still have work to do together.” 

At the festival, Kourtney Rolle, the owner of Raw Reveal Skin Care, was one of the vendors who set up in the plaza formerly called Hemming Park. 

“Emancipation Day means a lot to me, personally being of African American descent, and coming from the Bahamas,” she said. “This day is liberating, it’s full of understanding, it’s full of culture, positive vibes, and positive energy. This day is a day of freedom.”

Phillip W. Miner with the Duval County Democratic Black Caucus said it’s “better late than never” that the city is recognizing Emancipation Day. 

“Now, I don’t want to suggest that we must have a city’s endorsement in order for it to be real,” Miner said. “But it’s important for the city to do it if for no other reason that it is a factual reality that it was two years after emancipation that it filtered down to Florida.”

The inaugural emancipation celebration lasts until 8 p.m. Thursday. 

Contact Sydney Boles at, or on Twitter at@sydneyboles.

Sydney manages community engagement programs like WJCT News' Coronavirus Texting Service. Originally from the mountains of upstate New York, she relocated to Jacksonville from Kentucky, where she reported on Appalachia's coal industry.