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Punta Gorda comes together for


‘The feeling of the crowd was one of togetherness’



From the steps of the Blanchard House Museum there rang a proclamation of freedom Saturday morning.

Retired Lt. Col. Scot Shively reenacted the role of Union General Edward M. McCook, who on May 20, 1865 was tasked with receiving the surrender of Florida’s Confederate troops, after which he read the Emancipation Proclamation from the steps of the city’s Knott House, ending slavery in the state.

Although President Abraham Lincoln had signed the proclamation in 1863, Florida didn’t proclaim the emancipation until two years later on May 20, 1865, 11 days after the end of the Civil War.

Blanchard House Director Martha Bireda hosted this year’s Emancipation Day Celebration. Not only did the day commemorate the 153-anniversary of the Florida reading of the proclamation in Tallahassee, but also the history of African-American culture in Punta Gorda.

“It’s just a beautiful day,” said Councilman Jaha Cummings. “We have people here from the museum network from about seven different counties that have come and it’s just wonderful for them to be able to celebrate with us.”

The Blanchard House has been celebrating Emancipation Day since 2004, minus two years due to Hurricane Charley. This year’s event was also catered by Reed’s Family BBQ.

“It’s also an introduction into what the next year’s exhibit (at the museum) will be,” said Cummings. “Next year’s exhibit will be the African origins of Southern cooking.”

Over 100 people attended Saturday’s event. The museum network makes up the Florida African American Heritage Preservation Network, a professional museum and historical reservation association formed in 2001 under its founding director, Althemese Barnes. Barnes currently runs the John Gilmore Riley Center Museum in Tallahassee. Barnes was presented with an award at the ceremony for her efforts in establishing and maintaining the network, as well as her work to preserve African-American heritage in Florida.

“The first thing that I noted on here (the award) was the photograph of Lt. Charles P. Bailey. How coveted this will be among awards. Thank you so much for recognizing me,” Barnes said.

Lt. Charles Bailey, of Punta Gorda, broke racial barriers as one of the Tuskegee Airmen in World War II.

His reenactment was performed by recent Charlotte High School graduate Jordan Dixon who delivered a lengthy monologue and a song, as well as taking pictures with the guests. Originally from Houston, Texas, the 18-yearold has only lived in Punta Gorda for around a year. He

A WWII-style hat worn by Jordan Dixon during his portrayal of Lt. Charles P. Bailey at Saturday’s Emancipation Day. The Blanchard House set up a mural in the front lawn.


Jordan Dixon, 18, standing next to the bust of Lt. Charles P. Bailey at the Blanchard House Emancipation Day celebration. Dixon portrayed Bailey in a presentation for the event.

Mayor Rachel Keesling and council member Jaha Cummings speak at the Emancipation Day Celebration at the Blanchard House Museum. Keesling read from the city’s official proclamation, declaring May 19 as 2018 Emancipation Day.

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