Along with her husband, Yul Anderson, Brenda Anderson is the founder of the African Market at Fort Mose, a family-friendly, three-day exhibition of African-influenced music, drumming, arts, products, culture and food. The African Market is held on the grounds of the Fort Mose Historic State Park, just north of the landmark St. Augustine city gates on U.S. Highway 1. The Fort Mose site became part of the Florida Park Service in 1989, was designated as a National Historic Landmark in 1994, and was listed the same year on the National Register of Historic Places. In 2009, the National Park Service designated it as a potential locale on the National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom, which recognizes the historical role of the Underground Railroad in ending slavery and the evolution of the civil rights movement.
For Brenda and Yul Anderson, The African Market is a celebration of a cultural heritage that had been hidden for centuries and a chance to give much overdue attention to Fort Mose as a treasure of African-American history.
Since the Fort Mose museum opened in March 2011 — admission is just $2 per person — park officials say fewer than 11,000 visitors have found their way to the site, tucked away off a residential road on the east side of the highway on 41.69 acres overlooking estuarine tidal marsh along the Intracoastal Waterway. The museum exhibits focus on the little-known history of the free Africans who played a vital role in the founding of St. Augustine in 1565 and life as it was for the residents of Fort Mose, established by the Spanish in 1733 as haven for those escaping the tyranny of slavery in the British colonies.
African Market organizers are hopeful the Fort Mose site and St. Augustine itself eventually will be elevated to the same historic significance in civil rights history as Selma and Montgomery in Alabama. They see the African Market event as a launching point toward establishing Fort Mose as a premier destination in an emerging and lucrative cultural heritage tourism industry, defined in a 2005 federal government report as “travel directed toward experiencing the arts, heritage and special character of a place.”
African Market organizers envision gondola tours through the Fort Mose estuaries so tourists can get closer to the original site of two Fort Mose locations, the first destroyed in 1740 by British invaders and the second abandoned in 1763, when the British took possession of Florida, forcing the free African residents to relocate to Cuba. The original fort sites are now on an island created after millionaire and railroad magnate Henry Flagler acquired the land and dredged it to fill marshlands for a hotel that is now Flagler College. Though there are no remaining visible structures of the forts, artifacts from the settlement were uncovered by a team of University of Florida scientists and archeologists who excavated the site in 1987. Many of those items are on display in the Fort Mose museum, providing a sense of the ingenuity and creativity of some 100 occupants when the population was at its largest, according to the official Fort Mose history.