President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863, at the dawn of the third year of the American Civil War. The proclamation declared “that all persons held as slaves are, and henceforward shall be free.”
This weekend, the Tampa Bay History Center presents a historical document at a historical place. Florida Emancipation Day: A Family Reunion will be celebrated Saturday, May 21 from 11 am to 5 pm at Chinsegut Hill Historic Site, 22495 Chinsegut Hill Road, Brooksville.
The History Center, which administers preservation efforts and educational programming at the historic site, presents Florida Emancipation Day: A Family Reunion as a free family event, with the support of Hernando County, Florida’s Adventure Coast Visitors Bureau, and Pasco-Hernando State College. At this event, area dignitaries will perform a live reading of the Emancipation Proclamation from the steps of the historical house.
This celebration also will feature living history and historical reenactments, an active archaeological dig tour, outdoor games for all ages courtesy of the Hernando County YMCA, Brooksville food vendors, and live music throughout the afternoon.
Tickets are sold separately for tours of the historic home (Adults: $10, Children: $5).
Above and beyond the pageantry and celebration, this event offers a unique local perspective on a landmark American event.
“The last of Florida’s enslaved African people were liberated May 20th, 1865, when U.S. Major General Edward McCook read the Emancipation Proclamation from the steps of the Knott House in Tallahassee,” says Fred Hearns, Curator of Black History at the History Center. “When that day of freedom came in 1865, Black people’s liberation meant a time of rejoicing and reuniting with loved ones. That’s what May 20th celebrations are all about.”
Hearns, who has throughout his extensive experience as a community leader administered similar celebrations throughout the Tampa Bay area, sees Chinsegut as an ideal place for this latest commemorative event. Chinsegut is home to a historic house at the center of a 114-acre preserve with a human history that spans millennia and includes prehistoric people, Seminole Indians, wealthy American planters, enslaved individuals, political crusaders, and others.
“This was a place where enslaved people lived and worked,” he said. “This is also a place where enslaved people were freed.”
Local dignitaries on hand to perform a live recitation of the Emancipation Proclamation are:
Timothy L. Beard, Ph.D., Pasco-Hernando State College President
Pat Brayton, City of Brooksville Mayor
Susan Duval, Hernando School Board Vice-Chair
Natalie Kahler, Brooksville Main Street Executive Director
Jeff Rogers, Hernando County Administrator
Curtis Stokes, Tampa Bay History Center Board of Trustees Chair
John Stratton, Hernando School District Superintendent
“I value the opportunity to participate in this event, to give back to those who came before us,” said Beard. “We want to memorialize and recognize, to spread positive energy throughout the community.”
Mayor Brayton feels that events such as this one have the unique power to unify the community.
“I hate to see our country so divided. This is a remembrance of what we’ve accomplished,” he said. “We are all created equal, and we all need to work together.”
Kahler, a one-time manager of Chinsegut Manor, still gives tours at the center.
“I’m always looking to make people more aware of local history,” she said. “And in such an information-driven age, it might be difficult to understand as to how the news of the Emancipation Proclamation would take months to reach this area.”
And the message of the Proclamation, in Kahler’s view, still needs to reach everyone.
“Now more than ever we need to realize,” she said. “Everyone has the right to personhood.”
“We all must learn the value of learning from history–and in this case, the truth of the Civil War and what happened to African peoples,” he said. “We can’t go back–but we can move forward for change.”
C.J. Roberts, President, and CEO of the History Center, also believes in the power of moving forward for the greater good.
“Storytelling is a powerful tool for shaping our future,” says C.J. Roberts, “We’re telling more of the Chinsegut Hill story than ever before and are eager to share this special place in West Central Florida.”