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Hunter Hill

2020 Florida Folk Heritage Award Winner

Two African American men drumming

Carrying on a tradition that first began in 1865, Hunter Hill is working to teach new generations the 20th of May drumbeat and to keep its history beating.

The tradition of the drumbeat coincides with the remembrance of the emancipation of enslaved Africans in Tallahassee on May 20th, 1865. While the Emancipation Proclamation was declared on January 1st, 1863, news would not reach Tallahassee for over 2 years, and the first official celebration in Leon County would still not happen for a few more years. Over the years, the Tallahassee community has continued to celebrate Emancipation Day. The first celebrations, which first began in 1867, took place at Bull Park, now known as Lake Ella. The celebration would move to the Winthrop Plantation, and eventually end up at its most recent location, the Hill family estate.

Growing up in Tallahassee, the community that Hunter Hill was raised in were all taught the beat, in preparation to play it at the celebration. Today, Hill has continued to do his part, and is actively involved in preserving and teaching of the ancestral emancipation drumbeat over the years. Along with the few remaining individuals who still play the beat, Hill and others have taken to visiting local high schools around Tallahassee to teach the beat to students in high school band drum line. Hunter Hill is also a participant in the 2020 Florida Folklife Apprenticeship Program, currently teaching the beat to his apprentice Christopher White.

The efforts Hunter Hill has made to preserve this beat help to pass down the musical practice, but to also teach newer generations the traditions and cultural importance of the Emancipation Day celebrations. While the 20th of May drum beat is thought of as a more hidden culture in Leon county, there is certainly an effort to keep the beat of Emancipation Day alive as we move forward.