Ever since she can remember, Malissa Willeford has celebrated Florida's Emancipation Day with her family, church and friends.
On Friday, she was sitting next to the pastor of her church, St. Peter Primitive Baptist, across from the Knott House on East Park Avenue, waiting for a Civil War reenactor to read the Emancipation Proclamation.
Willeford is a sixth-generation Tallahassee native. Her grandfather's family, who was enslaved, is buried on Phipps Plantation land.
(There's) nothing like being in the park and seeing the actual reading," Willeford, 57, said. "I'm glad to be back with my church family."
Historians and officials, including new Florida Secretary of State Cord Byrd, Tallahassee Mayor John Dailey and local city and county commissioners, and the Leon County community celebrated the 157th anniversary of the reading of the Emancipation Proclamation on the steps of the Knott House.
It was a triumphant return for a uniquely Tallahassee tradition that had gone virtual for the last two years on account of the COVID-19 pandemic.
On May 20, 1865, Gen. Edward McCook with the Union Army notified residents of Leon County that "all persons held as slaves within said designated States, and parts of States, are, and henceforward, shall be free."
Enslaved Black people in Florida were the second to last to gain their freedom, said Larry Rivers, a distinguished professor of history at Florida A&M University.
While some Americans, especially Texans, celebrate Juneteenth as an emancipation holiday, Rivers said in Florida, it's May 20.
"So let us go out and tell it on the mountains," he preached from the Knott House steps. "Let us go out and tell it in the valleys. Let us go out and tell whoever will listen, that May 20, 1865, is the day in Florida that freedom cried."
Contact Ana Goñi-Lessan at AGoniLessan@tallahassee.com and follow her on Twitter @goni_lessan.
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This article originally appeared on Tallahassee Democrat: Florida celebrates Emancipation Day on the steps of the Knott House