Underground Railroad conference planned

Freedom Road 1 Managing Partner, Derek Boyd Hankerson, informed Historic City News that an upcoming National Park Service conference in 2012 for the Underground Railroad Network to Freedom Project will be held in St. Augustine.

“The conference will extend a call for papers later next year,” Hankerson said. “While we have two years to plan, we are not wasting time acquiring community buy-in, sponsorships, presenters, etc.”

For three days this month, Hankerson met with Director Diane Miller, and Regional Coordinator Barbara Tagger, to discuss the conference and the role St. Augustine will play as its host site.

The NPS officials visited with the Prime Outlet Manager, lodging staff at the Renaissance, county officials and staff, representatives of Flagler College, Kingsley Plantation, Fort Mose, Fountain of Youth, St. Augustine Airport Authority, and Castillo de San Marcos.

The mission and goal of the Network to Freedom Project conference is to “connect the international dots” between escaped slaves and Seminole Indians who made it 150 miles from the lighthouse at Key Biscayne in Spanish Florida across choppy green seas to the tiny Bahamian village of Andros Island in the early 1820s.

“We connected with the Bahamians in Key Biscayne,” Hankerson told Historic City News. “We met with the Bahamian General Counsel, State Senator, officials and staff from the Clifton Heritage Park.”

Hankerson commented “regardless of what historians and history text books say, this southern route was established via an early edit in 1600, again in 1693, and then again in 1738 and hence the establishment of Fort Mose, the first free black settlement in North American.”

“Ironically, prior to African utilizing Fort Mose as a sanctuary, Native Americans also used this site and so we are planning to shed some light on St. Augustine as the Birthplace of Freedom,” Hankerson said.

The trip concluded in Miami with a Bahamas-United States Underground Railroad heritage training workshop focused on education, cultural and heritage tourism and interpretation of historical sites. Hankerson is advocating a similar seminar for our area in the near future.

The Underground Railroad Network to Freedom Project will have an international appeal and include connections to the Minorcans, Mariners, Seminoles, Cubans, Hispanics, (Native Americans), Haitians, Bahamians, and Spanish. It was those in this area who at times risked their lives helping Negroes seeking freedom. It was an international effort.

Local Republican Congressman John L. Mica, has been asked to serve as Keynote Speaker, and we will be acquiring additional partners to include historical attractions such as the Fountain of Youth and the Timucuan Archeological Park, Osceola Capture Site, St. Johns County Treaty Park, Mission San Luis in Tallahassee, and other areas along the St. Johns River.

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