KEY WEST — A cemetery where 295 Africans, mostly children and youth, are buried will form the backdrop for the local observance of the International Day for the Remembrance of the Slave Trade and Its Abolition this weekend.
The official date for the worldwide celebration is Aug. 23 — this Thursday — but the commemoration will take place Sunday at the Key West African Cemetery monument on Atlantic Boulevard.
The cemetery is the burial site of those who were among 1,432 enslaved Africans rescued in 1860 from three American-owned slave ships Wildfire, William and Bogota.
The U.S. Navy captured the vessels, which were bound for Cuba, as America edged closer to Civil War. The Africans who made up the human cargo succumbed to illnesses and horrible conditions they suffered during the ocean crossing and the survivors were detained in Key West for 12 weeks while waiting to be returned to Africa.
The first of the survivors arrived in the West African nation of Liberia on Aug. 26.
Sunday’s observance will therefore serve the twofold purpose of joining the rest of the world to commemorate the United Nations-designated
International Day for the Remembrance of the Slave Trade, while calling attention to the special place which Key West holds in the history of slavery, according to Dinizulu Gene Tinnie, a lead local organizer.
The UN designated the day to mark the August 1791 historic slave revolution against France that gave birth to Haiti on part of the island known as Santo Domingo as the second
independent republic in the Western Hemisphere after the United States. It was celebrated for the first time on Aug. 23, 1998, in several countries, including Haiti.
The observance is also intended to honor those who dedicated their lives to ending slavery and the impact of their efforts around the colonial world.
Key West activist Norma Jean Sawyer first organized the city’s observance in 2009 but it is being by continued this year by the Dos Amigos/Fair Rosamond Slave Ship Replica Project, which Tinnie heads.
The remembrance, which will include placing of wreaths at the cemetery, will include special recognition of that project and several others, such as an expedition in July by the National Association of Black Scuba Divers to locate the 1827 wreck of the Spanish slave ship Guerrero, the recent discovery of the 1860 slaver Peter Mowell in the Bahamas and the official listing of the cemetery on the National Register of Historic Places.
“In all of these developments, the Key West-based Mel Fisher Maritime Museum has played a leading role,” Tinnie said.
The cemetery itself will soon be enhanced by the addition of structural components to the memorial monument and the Higgs Memorial Beach area will be developed. That includes a rerouting of Atlantic Boulevard around the boundaries of the burial site, thus restoring much of its original integrity.
“The observance of the International Day also embodies a number of national and global connections, including similar ceremonies in such other cities as Baltimore and similar cemeteries, like the recently uncovered burial site of a number of Africans liberated from captured slave ships on remote St. Helena Island in the South Atlantic,” Tinnie said.