In one of many commemorations of St. Augustine’s 450 year history, on Saturday, the St. Augustine Middle Passage Committee, the Black Catholic Commission of the Diocese of St. Augustine, and representatives of the Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Commission, honored their African ancestors.
Along with supporting co-sponsors, they conducted a remembrance ceremony and a separate marker placement to celebrate the diverse settlement of St. Augustine and its African, European, and Native American cultural and religious heritage.
Middle Passage is the designation given to the transatlantic journey to the New World made principally by Africans captured to be sold into slavery in the Americas. They, along with Europeans, free Africans, and Native Americans, comprised the city’s earliest inhabitants since the 16th century.
The Middle Passage Ceremonies and Port Markers Project, a national non-profit that addresses this history at numerous documented African arrival sites in America, has partnered with the local committee to honor enslaved Africans, many of whom perished in the voyage, and the survivors’ descendants who were a vital part of establishing St. Augustine in 1565, and after.
The commemorative ceremony held on the north lawn of Castillo de San Marcos included Seminole Chief Justice Willie Johns; spiritual advisor Malidoma Some; Reverend Israel of Mt. Carmel Primitive Baptist Church; Sons of Israel Congregation; Dr. Dorothy Israel, Fort Mose Historical Society; Reverend Ted Voorhees, St. Cyprians Episcopal Church; and Professor William Hamilton, Buddhist lay organization Soka Gakkai International.
The historic marker at the Mission Nombre de Dios grounds was contributed by the Black Catholic Commission of the Diocese of St. Augustine. It communicates the history of the first Black Christian community and the continued contributions of Africans’ descendants throughout the city’s 450 years and lists the documented ships that delivered enslaved Africans to the port city during the 18th century.
Florida’s first Black ordained Roman Catholic priest, Rev. James R. Boddie, Jr., pastor of Christ the King parish, represented the Diocese at the unveiling.
St. Augustine’s significance as one of the earliest documented African arrival sites in what would become the United States, illustrates the intersection of cultures and our ancestors’ role in creating an ongoing local and national identity. One purpose of this initiative is to provide a means of remembering and healing for the descendants of Africans and the nation as a whole.
For St. Augustine the historical reality requires a reassessment of popular perception. With the ceremony and installation of a permanent marker in the vicinity where Pedro Menendez de Aviles is purported to have arrived in 1565, St. Augustine will more accurately be identified as the oldest European/African/Native American permanent settlement in the United States.