The National Park Service, and the Gullah-Geechie Cultural Heritage Corridor Commission, will hold a joint meeting in St. Augustine on Thursday, February 18th, and Friday February 19th, 2010 according to an announcement received by Historic City News this weekend.
“The meeting in the local community is another personal economic vision for St. Augustine, come to fruition,” said Derek Boyd Hankerson, Managing Partner of Freedom Road, LLC.
During this year’s Black History Month, the National Park Service (NPS) and the Gullah-Geechie Cultural Heritage Corridor Commissioners (GGCHC) will descended upon St. Augustine for their first ever public meeting.
“This meeting will be a historic one, of sorts, because it leads to our request for an extension of the NPS/ GGCHC to include St. Augustine and St. Johns County in the corridor. If approved, inclusion could provide millions of dollars in economic impact for this area; including travel, tourism and economic development,” Hankerson said.
Currently, the NPS management plan is being reviewed by the United States Secretary of Interior. The great news is, if approved, the extension to include St. Johns County could occur prior to the 450th and 500th Celebration.
Hankerson says, “The importance of extending the corridor relates to its historical accuracy on African-American contributions to maritime, accurate American and southern history.”
The corridor was part of the original lands granted to Spain by the Catholic Church in 1492, and in the early 1500’s England, France, and Spain attempted to establish a foothold in the North American southeast. The Spanish had hoped to make Santa Elana Island (off the South Carolina coast) the capitol of Spanish Florida. It is likely that the first Gullah people in North American were left behind by the Spanish. Records indicate that Lucas Vasquez De Ayllon left at least 100 Africans behind in 1526, when their colony failed. Those that were left behind were African’s from the West Coast of Africa.
Fearing that he was losing a battle for the contested lands in Florida, Georgia and the Carolinas, King Charles I of Spain issued the Edict of 1600 that allowed any African who made their way to Spanish Florida to be granted their freedom. In 1693 King Charles II officially stated that any slave on an English plantation that could escape and make it to Spanish Florida would be granted their Freedom if they became Catholic and joined the Militia.
Those who escaped with the assistance of the Seminoles were Gullah-Geechie from North and South Carolina, and the start of the mass exodus from the Carolina’s, and Georgia to form the original Underground Railroad that led south, prior to leading North.
The edicts of 1600 and 1693 were the first civil rights legislation in the New World, and Carolina planters were outraged that their property was being given refuge in Spanish Florida.
The conflict between England and Spain lead to the invasion of Spanish Florida by then Governor James Moore of South Carolina in 1702. This began the dismantling of the Spanish Mission system in the southeast. Christianized Indians that were not killed were sold into slavery in the English Caribbean. Those survivors that could, flee to St. Augustine.
Including St. Augustine and St. Johns County in these accurate historical accounts has to be preserved, and can be, through the NPS/GGCHC. This, in itself, will assist in making others aware of the courage, determination and loyalty of those Africans that did make the journey and contribute to the building of their country. Additionally, it will add credence to the fact that blacks have fought and died for the south prior to the major conflict, which arose in 1864.
Hankerson told Historic City News, “With the world shrinking each day due to the advent of the Internet and DNA testing, heritage tourism is fueled by global interest. With a falling dollar many Europeans will find travel to the U.S. a bargain. With more accurate and complete accounts of the age of exploration and the establishment of the New World becoming available many will want to see for themselves. Many are interested in finding out more about their colonial ancestors, and the Gullah-Geechie Cultural Heritage Corridor assists in telling the true and accurate version of the story.”
“The history of Africans in America and of their contributions, are integral parts of our modern day, multi–cultural society. Extending the Gullah-Geechie Cultural Heritage Corridor into St. Augustine is fitting and appropriate. Additionally, approving this extension and telling this story can assist in the development of young minority boys and girls in building self-esteem in a world where history is written by the winner of the battles, and from a Eurocentric perspective,” according to Hankerson.
Hankerson is on the agenda to address the St. Augustine City Commission at their regular meeting at City Hall tonight.
Derek Boyd Hankerson is lobbying the National Park Service on the inclusion of St. Johns County into the Gullah/Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor, and is working on other National Heritage Area projects for Northeast Florida. He also has lobbied the NPS Underground Railroad Network to Freedom project to include St. Johns County because of the county’s contribution to the Underground Railroad. Hankerson is a graduate or Webster University School of Business and Technology with a masters degree in management and leadership. He received his undergraduate degree from the University of Maryland and completed graduate studies in organizational communications at Bowie State University.