Editorial: Why St Augustine?
What made St Augustine different from other US destinations in the experiences of free blacks?
In 1738, in Spanish Florida, former slaves escaping their English masters founded Gracia Real de Santa Teresa de Mose, a settlement charter by Florida’s Spanish Governor, which is today known as Fort Mose.
Fort Mose became the first legally sanctioned free African settlement in the United States and was viewed as a sanctuary for Africans from English slavery. Today, Fort Mose Historic State Park is located three miles north of St Augustine’s city gate.
Blacks in Florida had very different experiences under Spanish rather than British rule.
Under Spanish rule:
•Some blacks were free and some were not. Slavery was based on religion, not color. Not all Spanish slaves were African and not all Africans were slaves.
•Free blacks competed with whites for jobs.
•Slaves were entitled to earn wages and had protection from mistreatment by their owners.
•Africans were able to retain and practice their native customs and these cultural traditions were embedded in the first colony, creating a richly blended multicultural society.
Under British rule:
•Thousands of enslaved Africans faced starvation, torture and even death on their journey to the Americas on The Middle Passage.
•Blacks worked in a fast-growing plantation economy.
•Enslaved Africans were forced into labor and endured brutal punishments.
•Blacks had no legal standing and virtually no rights.
In addition to Fort Mose, the city played other significant roles in the history of African-Americans.
Freed at the end of the Civil War, former local slaves created the Lincolnville district of St Augustine once named “Little Africa” and now an area that has been added to the National Register of Historic Places.
In 1963 and 1964, Civil Rights demonstrations in St. Augustine and the violent attempts to stop them gained national and international media attention. In St. Augustine’s Plaza de la Constitucion, the Andrew Young Crossing commemorates the June 9, 1964, Civil Rights march led by Young and there is a monument dedicated to the St. Augustine Foot Soldiers who participated in the Civil Rights Movement.
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