per Dinizulu Gene Tinnie, Key West, FL Dos Amigos/Fair Rosamond Slave Ship Replica Project
The year 2014 promises to be a watershed year in terms of human species coming to terms with one of the most sordid chapters of our collective history on earth, the Middle Passage, thanks in large part to significant initiatives being undertaken by the United Nations, but due even more to a growing will and resolve by individuals, organizations, and nations around the world to right the wrongs of the past (and present)
This year marks the 20th anniversary of the UNESCO Slave Route Project, launched in 1994 with a conference in Whydah (Ouidah), Benin, West Africa, co-sponsored by Haiti, as a global call to all nations that were touched by the so-called “slave trade” to identify and conserve all historic sites, artifacts, archival records, oral memories, and other evidence of the 400+ years of this trafficking in human lives, so that this history is never lost or forgotten by younger and future generations.
The Middle Passage was the name that was given to the middle leg of the highly lucrative Triangular Trade sailing route which took cheap trade goods from Europe or rum from North America on ships’ Outward Passage to Africa, where these items were traded for captive people, who were taken across the Atlantic to the Americas and Caribbean, to be sold into slavery in exchange for the products of enslaved forced labor: sugar, cotton, tobacco, indigo, rice, coffee, gold, silver, spices, etc., which were carried back to the ships’ home ports on the Homeward Passage.
The Middle Passage, as the Atlantic “slave trade” crossing was known, was arguably the single most defining factor in shaping of the world that we know today, with its current patterns of economic, political, and military power and influence.
Lasting more than four centuries, this forced crossing of the Atlantic was the largest migration of human beings in recorded history, surpassing even the previous centuries of traffic in African captives across the Sahara or the Indian Ocean. (Yet, be it noted, the “slave trade” era was not the first or the only time that Africans crossed oceans or arrived in the Americas.)
The Middle Passage was not an importation of “slaves,” but rather a transfer of millions of human beings (those who survived), who brought vital nation-building skills and cultural and spiritual knowledge in their “invisible baggage,” as well as physical strength, to a new hemisphere from a continent which became subsequently underdeveloped by depopulation and foreign exploitation of its remaining human and natural resources, which continues today.
- UNITED NATIONS-RELATED DEVELOPMENTS
- UNESCO Initiatives
In 2012, UNESCO named African American jazz bassist Marcus Miller (who notably worked with legend Miles Davis in the late years of that musician’s stellar career) as an international Ambassador of Peace.
In preparation for the 20th anniversary of the UNESCO Slave Route Project, and to encourage increased U.S. and North American engagement and involvement, Project Director Ali Moussa-Iye met at Howard University, Washington, D.C., in September, 2012, with leading scholars in the field of African World history and culture, including Dr. Joseph Harris, Dr. Sheila Walker, Moorland-Spingarn Research Library Director Howard Dodson, and retired National Park Service official Vincent de Forest among others. A follow-up meeting was held in Paris at UNESCO headquarters in December, 2012.
Those meetings laid the groundwork for a return visit to the U.S. by Mr. Moussa-Iye in September of 2013, which included the following:
- A meeting with the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation regarding the possibility of that institution becoming the official archive of the UNESCO Slave Route Project in the U.S. and North America, which appears to be a promising prospect, due to the Foundation’s resources. (Although not discussed at the time, this proposal has the fortuitous potential of connecting with two important initiatives at the College of William & Mary, located in Williamsburg: the Middle Passage Project and the Lemon Project [see links]
- Moussa-Iye met briefly with staff of the forthcoming National Museum of African American History & Culture (NMAAHC) of the Smithsonian Institution, presently under construction on the National Mall, and due to open in 2015.
- He also made a presentation at the Congressional Black Caucus Annual Legislative Conference at the DC Convention Center on Sept. 19, where he showed an excerpt of the recent UNESCO-produced film “The Slave Route: Soul of Resistance” in the Annual Workshop session organized by Florida Congresswoman Corrine Brown.
- Moussa-Iye had a particularly significant preliminary meeting with members of the National Park Service (NPS) International Committee, regarding one of the Slave Route Projects primary goals, which is to identify “Places of Memory” (historic and related locations), ensure their preservation and suitable interpretation, and to develop Cultural Heritage Tourism routes around these sites.
- Finally, he held an informal meeting with representatives of some of the above named entities, but also including the Dos Amigos/Fair Rosamond Slave Ship Replica Project.
- Other UN Developments:
The most newsworthy development related to this subject was the announcement on September 23, 2013, on the day before the Opening of the General Assembly’s 68th Session, of the winning design for the Permanent Memorial to the Victims of the Transatlantic Slave Trade to be placed on the Plaza at UN Headquarters in New York. Out of some 310 entries from countries around the world (finalists included designs from China, Finland, Italy and other countries), “the Ark of Return,” a design by Haitian-descendant African American architect Rodney Leon (who also designed the African Burial Ground memorial in New York) was selected.
In keeping with the observance of the 20th anniversary of the Slave Route Project, such International Days as March 25 (for the Remembrance of the Victims of the Transatlantic Slave Trade and Slavery), August 23 (for the Remembrance of the Slave Trade and its Abolition), and December 2 (for the Abolition of Slavery [which continues today]) will take on much added significance. (We note in passing that the March 25 date follows closely the March 21 International Day for the Elimination of Racism and Discrimination, commemorating the 1960 Sharpeville Massacre in South Africa, which is also the date of the 1937 Ponce Massacre in Puerto Rico.)
The General Assembly has reportedly unanimously agreed, after extensive negotiations, to declare an International Decade for People of African Descent (2015-2024).
- Implementation: The Middle Passage Coalition
- In order to pursue these agendas, monitor their progress, and generally increase general public awareness and involvement, a collective effort is under way to form a Middle Passage Coalition of the U.S. and North America, which might be officially recognized by UNESCO.
- Part of the Coalition’s mission, so to speak, will be to foster CULTURAL activities – public programs, exhibitions, performances, etc., which will help to bring this history to life even more directly and meaningfully than these quasi-governmental initiatives.
- The Coalition will play an especially key role in the matter of identifying and interpreting Middle Passage-related sites, which, very notably, should include the Indigenous history of the locations, and, especially in the case of North America, should include locations related to the internal or domestic “slave trade.”
- NATIONAL AND LOCAL INITIATIVES
The beginnings of a Middle Passage Coalition that can maximize these opportunities are already in place with any number of longstanding and recently developed initiatives around the country, but particularly in Florida, and the nearby Bahamas.
However, before addressing those in this combined region, special mention needs to be made of three significant developments of relatively recent years:
- At long last, thanks largely to the efforts of Michael Allen of the National Park Service (NPS), Fort Moultrie on Sullivans Island, near Charleston, SC, has an exhibition in place which tells of that port’s preeminent role as a point of arrival of enslaved Africans, particularly from Sierra Leone, West Africa, whose expertise in rice cultivation and resistance to tropical diseases made them extremely valuable. It is near Fort Moultrie that Nobel Laureate Toni Morrison’s first “Bench by the Road” (a proposal for all such locations) was placed.
- The Federal government has established a Congressionally funded Gullah/Geechee Cultural Corridor Commission to preserve the endangered rich cultural traditions which originated with this importation, and which spread to the Sea Islands of the Carolinas. Georgia, and North Florida.
- In similar fashion, the National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom, which includes escape routes from slavery to and through Florida (becoming very much a part of the Seminole story), has been established as a Federal government initiative, within the NPS.
In 2013, Florida observed “Viva Florida 500,” the 500th anniversary of the landing in April, 1513, of Juan Ponce de Leon on the North American mainland. A little –remembered fact is that he was accompanied by Black fellow “Conquistador” Juan Garrido, born in West Africa, who would outlive Ponce to explore the continent and to be the first person to plant and grow wheat in the Americas. This was more than a century before the landing of the first African “slaves” at Jamestown in 1619, (“Before the Mayflower”).
In Florida, several initiatives are in progress, which can be considered in locations from South to North along the Atlantic coast:
- Key West African Cemetery, where 295 African Captives, out of a total of 1,432 rescued from three captured American slave ships were buried, has become an important landmark, with a State of Florida Historic Marker, and now listed on the National Register of Historic Places, thanks to the efforts of the Mel Fisher Martime Museum (please see below). Artists Dinizulu Gene Tinnie, Johnson Odibi, and Carlos and Diana Delgado provided artwork for the Cemetery memorial monument.
- The African Cemetery was visited no less than three times in as many years by HM Dr. Kpobi Tettey Tsuru, III, La Mantse (the King of the Traditional Area of La, Ghana, which includes the national capital of Accra), who placed memorial wreaths and conducted Reconciliation Ceremonies at the site.
- Mel Fisher Maritime Museum: The Museum has become an epicenter of Middle Passage history with at least four initiatives”
- i) a leading role in the preservation of the African Cemetery, including the Ground-Penetrating Radar (GPR) survey of the site to identify the locations of actual burials, and the securing of official Listing on the National Register of Historic Places;
- ii) the original discovery of the1700 wreck of the English slave ship Henrietta Marie, and the organization of the artifacts recovered from the wreck site into a traveling exhibition, recently relaunched;
iii) “The Last Slave Ships” exhibition at the Museum, telling the story of the ships involved with the African Cemetery and others, as the nefarious “slave trade” finally drew to a close in the latter half of the 1800s; and
- iv) engagement in the discovery of the most recently added discovery to this list, the wreck of the slave ship Peter Mowell in the Bahamas.
- In July, 2013, Co-founders Attorney Christopher Norwood of Miami and Prof. James Peterson of Lehigh University, PA, hosted the First Annual Key West Africana Festival, which featured Special Guest Dr. Michael Eric Dyson, and a preview screening of a PBS documentary on the search for the wreck of the Spanish slaver Guerrero off Key Largo (please see Key Largo, below).
- Karuna Eberl, who produced and directed the award-winning documentary “The Guerrero Project,” has relocated to the Florida Keys. (On a somber note, we note the passing of Actor James Avery, at age 65, best known for his role in the 1990s sitcom “Fresh Prince of Bel Air,” who narrates the “The Guerrero Project.”)
- Key West’s historic Schooner Western Union has an oblique connection to this history, having served as the “stand-in” for the Amistad, ensuring the inclusion of that story in the 1976 national Bicentennial Tall Ships parades in New York and elsewhere.
Key Largo and Biscayne National Park
Diving With a Purpose (DWP), a group formed by members of the National Association of Black Scuba Divers (NABS, which placed the underwater memorial monument at the wreck site of the Henrietta Marie), has been researching the 1827 wreck site off Carysfort Reef of the Spanish slaver Guerrero, with much assistance from the Mel Fisher Maritime Museum.
The most recent expedition by DWP was documented in an episode of the PBS series “Changing Seas,” which aired in the greater Miami area on June 19, 2013 (which therefore happened to coincide with the observance of Juneteenth).
Miami has become an epicenter in its own right of Middle Passage history and interest:
- It is the birthplace of the Dos Amigos/Fair Rosamond Slave Ship Replica Project, a proposal to bring the whole story of the Middle Passage to life as only a ship replica can, based on the rare actual surviving design plans of a 19th century brigantine schooner belonging to the era of specifically designed (illegal) slavers, and which had a life on both sides of the law, having been captured and converted to a slaver-catcher in the British Royal Navy.
- This community has been a pioneer in establishing oceanfront Remembrance Ceremonies, with its Annual Sunrise Ancestral Remembrance of the Middle Passage at Historic Virginia Key Beach Park (Miami’s onetime “Colored Only” beach of the Jim Crow era), beginning in 1991. The event is held on the Sunday closest to the summer solstice, and thus frequently coincides with Fathers; Day (appropriately), and has become linked to the observance of Juneteenth.
- The Annual Sunrise Ceremony was launched by Kwanzaa Unlimited, an artistic initiative which has also created and produces a gripping performance called “Journey of Our Ancestors,” portraying the arrival of African captives.
- Kinad, Inc, a nonprofit family-based organization, maintains an “African American History Timeline Traveling Museum,” a converted transit bus which visits schools and other organizations, in addition to mounting historical displays in public buildings at locations throughout the state.
- Miami in recent decades has hosted a large number of programs, exhibitions, etc., related to Middle Passage history and heritage. Most notable among these was a weekly program series and ancillary exhibit in conjunction with an extended-stay exhibition of “A Slave Ship Speaks: The Wreck of the Henrietta Marie” (from the Mel Fisher Maritime Museum), with a locally produced supplemental exhibit, at the HistoryMiami museum, which still ranks as the all-time most attended exhibition in that institutions long history, helped by a 13-week series of packed-house weekly programs.
- Miami has the distinction of having hosted three extended visits by the Freedom Schooner Amistad (one of these included Fort Lauderdale), with related exhibitions and programs. It was contemplated at one time that Miami would be the vessel’s winter port, and that proposal may still be possible.
- Miami has an established track record of Middle Passage historic and cultural programs, including panel discussions, lectures, book signings, film showings, art exhibitions, and other activities, which have developed a heightened community awareness.
- UPDATE: The Kuumba Artists Collective of South Florida will present an art exhibition entitled “The Middle Passage to the Future,” opening of August 23, 2014, the International Day for the Remembrance of the Slave Trade and Its Abolition (declared by the UN General Assembly, commemorating the anniversary of the launch of the Haitian Revolution, to underscore the fact that Africans themselves were the primary leaders of the Abolition movement), at the African Heritage Cultural Arts Center: through Sept. 30.
Fort Lauderdale’s Main Library, landmark African American Research Library & Cultural Center (AARLC), and Old Dillard Museum (site of the County’s first ‘’Colored School” and original site of present-day Dillard High School) have been important venues for well-attended programs and exhibitions.
Fort Lauderdale has also hosted a long-term winter visit of the Freedom Schooner Amistad.
UPDATE: The Society of Former Slaves and Freedmen, based in Fort Lauderdale (Broward County) is a recent addition to this list, and will be presenting a Black Holocaust program at the African American Research Library & Cultural Center, September 20, 2014 (Please see attachmnets).
Palm Beach County: Jupiter
Site of the landmark pivotal Loxahatchee Battlefield of the Second Seminole War (“a Negro war, not an Indian war”), Jupiter is Jupiter is where Mike Daniel is presently based; he is the discoverer of the wreck Blackbeard the Pirate’s legendary ship, the Queen Anne’s Revenge off the coast of North Carolina. Even more significant than the pirate connection is the vessel’s prior life as the Concorde of Nantes, France, which made at least two slaving voyages from Africa to Martinique, a history which has gone almost ignored.
Palm Beach County has also hosted a number of presentations related to Middle Passage history, including joint book-signing appearances by the late Yom Feelings (“Middle Passage: White Ships | Black Cargo”) and S.E. Anderson (“The Black Holocaust for Beginners”), and a multi-week presentation of “A Slave Ship Speaks: The Wreck of the Henrietta Marie” in Riviera Beach, with a program series similar to that carried out in Miami.
The home of the University of Florida is also home to the UNESCO-TST (Transatlantic Slave Trade) Florida Center, the only of several UNESCO Clubs in the nation which is primarily dedicated to Middle Passage history and heritage, conducting tours and other activities, and providing a direct link to UNESCO. Sherry DuPree, Director.
Florida Keys historian and researcher Gail Swanson, who first brought to light the forgotten stories of the 1827 wreck of the Spanish slaver Guerrero off Key Largo, and of the 1860 African Cemetery in Key West, is now based in DeLand, close to Stetson University, continuing her research, which includes several Middle Passage-related vessels and stories.
The oldest continuously settled city in the US is, as one might expect, very rich in history from many periods, including nearby Fort Mose, the Black Spanish fort which welcomed self-liberating enslaved Africans escaping to Florida, the Castillo San Marcos fort from which Seminole chiefs escaped, the historic Lincolnville African American Community, the Civil Rights memorial, and, notably, the structure which reportedly served as the “slave market.” St. Augustine also figures as one of the numerous locations in the saga of the African survivors of the 1827 wreck of the slave ship Guerrero.
The Middle Passage Ceremonies and Port Markers Project (MPCPMP), directed by Ann Chinn, has been in the forefront, as its name implies, of identifying and memorializing notable ports of entry of African captives who survived the Middle Passage. This group’s efforts have succeeded in placing monuments, with local community support, in such cities as Baltimore and Yorktown and Jamestown, VA, greatly increasing educational awareness of the significant roles these locations have played.
(See list at end of this document.)
The organization’s web site also regularly includes particularly insightful and excellently written blog posts.
Fort George Island is the site of the Timucuan Preserve, also known as the Kinglsey Plantation, established by slave trader Zepheniah Kingsley, whose African-born wife Anna (Anta Njaiye, from Senegal), managed the property as an astute and prosperous businesswoman in his absence as he traveled.
Amelia Island, to the north is the site of American Beach, the African American resort town founded by Black millionaire Abraham Lincoln Lewis in the 1920s, and of the town of Fernandina Beach, which was home to a Black fishing fleet, but was a notorious center of piracy and slave smuggling in the 1800s.
These Florida coastal islands, known as the Golden Isles, are the southernmost of the Sea Islands.
- B) THE BAHAMAS:
Notable research Dr. Rita Pratt and others, in Nassau, covering ships listed to have brought Africans to the Bahamas, including the following two notable cases, where descendants of survivors still have distinct communities
- The ship Creole, carrying enslaved people from Richmond to New Orleans
- The recently discovered 1860 wreck of the slave ship Peter Mowell.
Georgia: The Moran Family, whose moving reunion with their Ancestral village in Sierra Leone is documented in the video “The Language You Cry In,” continues to play a pioneering leadership role in cooperation with and meaningful investment in that West African nation.
“Bench by the Road”
Old Slave Mart Museum
Avery Research Center
St. Helena Island:
The historic Penn Center
Oyotunji Yoruba Village
North Carolina: Wreck of the Queen Anne’s Revenge, former slave ship Concorde
Hampton Roads: Hampton U, Hampton; Fort Monroe
Norfolk: The Mariners Museum, ,
Colonial Williamsburg Foundation digital archive of UNESCO Slave Route Project
The Middle Passage Project, College of William & Mary
The Lemon [slavery] Project, “ “ “ “ “
Yorktown and Jamestown: Middle Passage Port Markers placed
(See MPCPMP, Jacksonville, FL, above)
Jamestown: Replicas of the Susan Constant, Godspeed, and Discovery
- Middle Passage Port Marker Placed
- Historic home of “Baltimore Clipper” 19th century slave ship designers and builders, in shipyards highly dependent on enslaved skilled and unskilled laborers (such as Frederick Douglass).
- Home of restored U.S.S. Constellation
- Maryland Historical Society holds archival records
- Geoffrey M. Footner, maritime historian, author of “Tidewater Triumph”
Replica of the ship Dove – one of two bringing first European settlers to Maryland
- Eastern Office of the Dos Amigos/Fair Rosamond Slave Ship Replica Project.
- Replica of the Kalmar Nyckel, bringing first settlers to New Sweden, and crew member “Black Anthony,” fist permanent
New Jersey, Pennsylvania, New York Connecticut
(Freedom SchoonerAmistad, Yale U. Gilder Lehrman Ctr. For the Study of Slavery, etc.), Rhode Island (Newport, etc.), Massachusetts…
(To be continued…)
Middle Passage Ports Designated for Ancestral Ceremonies and Markers
in the United States of America
Connecticut (Middletown, New London)
District of Columbia (Georgetown)
Florida (Amelia Island, Key West, Pensacola, St. Augustine)
Georgia (Jekyll Island, Savannah, Tybee),
Louisiana (La Balise, New Orleans)
Maryland (Annapolis, Baltimore, Patuxent),
Massachusetts (Boston, New Bedford, Salem)
New Hampshire (Piscataqua, Portsmouth)
New Jersey (Perth Amboy)
New York (New York)
North Carolina (Wilmington)
Rhode Island (Bristol, Newport, Providence)
South Carolina (Charleston, Beaufort, James Island, Sullivan Island)
Texas (Deweyville, Galveston, Sabine Lake)
Virginia (Hampton, Jamestown, Norfolk, Rappahannock, Yorktown)
* Middle Passage ports where ceremonies have been held or markers placed are highlighted.
List provided by Middle Passage Ceremonies and Port Markers Project, Jacksonville, FL; Ann Chinn, Director
“But, if this part of our history could be told in such a way that those chains of the past, those shackles that physically bound us against our wills could, in the telling, become spiritual links that willingly bind us together now and into the future, then that painful Middle Passage could become, ironically, a positive connecting line to all of us whether living inside or outside the continent of Africa…” Tom Feelings