by: Kayley Sutton, Youth Ambassador
Pedro Menendez High School, Class of 2015
The St Augustine Visitor Center was the stop for the Youth Ambassadors in February 2014. We had been to the Visitor Center one other time when the Picasso exhibit was located there. But this time, we had the opportunity to see the exhibit called, “Journey: 450 Years of the African-American Experience.”
Mr. Dana Ste. Claire is the Director of the 450th Commemoration and he introduced us to our tour guides and gave us a brief history of the exhibit. Mr. Carl Gill, Volunteer Director of the exhibit, then took the Youth Ambassadors on a tour of the exhibit where we saw an original certificate of an African -American baptism in 1595 as well as a marriage license from 1598 between two African-American slaves.
At the village of Seloy in 1565, eight hundred colonists mingled with the Native Americans. African Americans were given jobs as caregivers, servants, and godparents to white children.
African-Americans were treated much differently under British and Spanish rule. Spanish slavery was based solely on religion rather than color, so some blacks were indeed free. British slavery meant that blacks had no legal standings and essentially no rights. Florida changed rule from Spain to Britain in 1763, then back to Spain in 1784. Imagine the changes in treatment!
The Journey exhibit really exemplifies how African-Americans have made a difference over the past 450 years in St Augustine. It showcases four themes which are:
1) The story of the first African-Americans
2) Fort Mose as the first freed black settlement in America
3) The Underground Railroad as it ran south to St Augustine
4) How St Augustine was a stimulant for the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964
We would highly recommend visiting the exhibition anytime you can! “I learned a vast amount of new information regarding black history in our nation,” says Samantha Cosme, a Youth Ambassador. Another Youth Ambassador, Sarah Gordon says, “It was really amazing to see the first known birth and marriage certificates.” The exhibit is located at the St Augustine Visitor Information Center on 10 W. Castillo Drive. It is free and open daily from 9:00am to 5:00pm until July 15, 2014.
The St Augustine Youth Ambassadors are involved with the 450th Commemoration initiative through educational and hands-on learning experiences where students, enrolled and attending St Johns County high schools, gain a deeper understanding and appreciation for the historical significance of St Augustine. The four-year project, now in its second year, will allow the forty Ambassadors to both take-away and give back to their community.
Students participate in a variety of lectures, programs, field trips to local attractions, and interactions with project partners and other volunteers. As the commemoration is a community effort, our youth ambassadors relay information obtained in our program to their peers, family members, friends and visitors alike. This monthly Historic City News column, the eighth in a series, provides one way for this to take place.