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Thursday, January 21, 2016

Our area's Underground Railroad connection

The Key Biscayne Historical & Heritage Society will start the new year programs with a special public reception for “Voyages of Freedom: The Underground Railroad History & Legacy,” a lively and informative presentation by nationally, regionally, and locally recognized historians and scholars in remembrance of the 19th century Underground Railroad, its Freedom Seekers and the Abolitionist Movement. 

You might ask, “What does this have to do with Key Biscayne history?” 
Art Yerian, the new Manager of Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park on Key Biscayne commented, “Not many may realize that our State Park is designated as one of the earliest Underground Railroad Stations in the nation by the National Park Service for its historic NPS Underground Railroad Network to Freedom Project,” he said, adding “That acknowledgement in 2004 was before my time here, so I’m excited to attend this coming commemorative event with everybody else to learn more about Florida’s fugitive slaves and Seminole Blacks who fled from our beaches to freedom in the 1820s.”  

Co-chair for the event and the Founder of the Florida Underground Railroad Project [FURP], Kristopher Smith has said, “Through the individual presentations and panel discussion in “The Florida Underground Railroad and Its Legacy: Linking the Past to the Future,” we will tell about the early Freedom Seekers who arrived on Key Biscayne seeking passage across the Gulfstream to freedom in the Bahamas, Cuba, Haiti and the Caribbean. We will recognize others whose work continued the legacy and we will share transformational stories that may resonate in today’s world.” 
Joan Gill Blank, co-chair and KBHH member, said the event will address and bring to life the meaning and historic role of the UGRR and the Abolitionist Movement—sometimes called the first Civil Rights Movement—as it relates to American and Florida history, past and present. “Exploring history can often offer insights to contemporary situations,” she said, and continued, “Might our deeper understanding of the UGRR provide a model for working together in our communities, and across borders?”

Please join the KBHH Society at the Community Center for a Public Reception to kick off the event at 6 pm on January 22. During the reception, meet and mingle with the distinguished speakers and guests, view informative displays and video and enjoy refreshments including spirits. Presentations begin at 7 pm.
For questions or sponsorship opportunities, please contact The Key Biscayne Community Foundation: 305-361-2770 or

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Anonymous swlip said...

Interesting. I thought that slavery in Cuba wasn't abolished until after the American Civil War.

January 21, 2016 10:10 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oct. 7, in 1886 slavery was finally abolished in Cuba by Spanish royal decree that also made an indentured servitude system, known as "patronato," illegal. Cuba's first record of slavery was in 1513, and the first large group of slaves - kidnapped from Africa - to arrive in Cuba was in 1520. Slave trafficking surged during the British occupation of Havana. Sugar production grew, becoming Cuba's number one slave-produced crop.
After the 10 Years' War for independence, slaves who fought for either the Spanish or the Cuban anti-colonialists, were granted freedom in 1878.
Black Cubans faced racial discrimination after the 1886 abolition of slavery, but became the backbone of the Cuban independence movement and its Liberation Army ("Los Mambises"). Antonio Maceo was one of the greatest military commanders in both the 1868 and the 1895 wars for independence. Called the "Bronze Titan," Maceo was one of the most important leaders in Cuba's fight for independence from Spain.
Even after independence, racial discrimination and segregation persisted from time the U.S. intervened in the Cuban war for independence, leading to the Spanish American war, until the 1959 fall of U.S.-supported dictator Fulgencio Batista during the Cuban Revolution.

January 21, 2016 5:23 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

For century, slaves fled south -- to Florida
While most Americans are familiar with the Underground Railroad that helped Southern slaves escape north before the Civil War, the first clandestine path to freedom ran for more than a century in the opposite direction. It’s the lesser-known "railroad".
The network of sympathizers gave refuge to those fleeing their masters, including many American Indians who helped slaves escape to what was then the Spanish territory of Florida. That lasted from shortly after the founding of Carolina Colony in 1670 to after the American Revolution.
They escaped not only to the South but to Mexico, the Caribbean and the American West.
And the "railroad" helps to explain at least in part why the lasting culture of slave descendants -- known as Gullah in South Carolina and Geechee in Florida and Georgia -- exists along the northeastern Florida coast.
The dream of freedom in Florida did play a role in the 1739 Stono Rebellion outside Charleston, the largest slave revolt in British America.
It's assumed slaves started fleeing toward Florida when South Carolina was established in 1670. The first mention of escaped slaves in Spanish records was in 1687.
Spain refused to return them and instead gave them religious sanctuary, and that policy was formalized in 1693. The only condition is that those seeking sanctuary convert to Catholicism.
It was a total shift in the geopolitics of the Caribbean and after that anyone who leaves a Protestant area to request sanctuary received. Gullah creole is still spoken in churches in northeastern Florida, Landers said.
Except for about 20 years when the British held St. Augustine, the Spanish policy of sanctuary remained in effect until 1790 when Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson convinced the Spanish crown to end it. Many runaways escaped amid the chaos and violence of the revolution, and keeping that corridor open could have drained the Southern colonies of slaves.

January 21, 2016 5:37 PM  

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