By Rosalinda Sanquiche, September 9, 2013
Fort Mose is hosting its first African Market festival, October 12-14, 2013. The African Market is planned as a rousing celebration reminiscent of African markets around the world, crowded with food vendors, street artists, musicians, dancers and artisans hawking their wares to visitors looking for that special something to take home.
The purpose of the African Market is to “highlight the rich history of Fort Mose, linking this icon of freedom with St. Augustine’s important Civil Rights history from the 1960s to the current opportunities for business exchange between the US and Africa,” says Yul Anderson, founder of the African American Future Society and co-organizer with Brenda Anderson.
As part of Viva Florida 500, a statewide initiative of the Florida Department of State to celebrate 500 years of history from the arrival of Ponce de Leon in 1513, the African Market celebration honors Fort Mose’s role in Florida’s history as a legally chartered settlement by the Spanish Governor of Florida in 1738, providing a “sanctuary from the tyranny of English slavery.”
Fort Mose was the first stop on the southern underground railroad and the first free black community in the US. Runaway slaves, freed slaves and their children lived in a vibrant community in the shoals and mudflats just north of St. Augustine, many intermarrying with the local Seminole population or moving farther south and to Cuba when the British took over the region. Though no buildings remain, the state park was listed in 1994 as a National Historic Landmark on the National Register of Historic Places. In 2009, the National Park Service named Fort Mose as a precursor site on the National Underground Railroad Network of Freedom. Today, visitors can enjoy walking along a boardwalk, bird watching, picnicking, exploring the museum and geocaching.
The African Market events are diverse and wide ranging. At Fort Mose, the market itself takes center stage from 8:30 a.m. to 4:00 pm. After hours, business receptions at the museum will bring together business leaders and entrepreneurs from Africa with business leaders in the US and particularly North Florida, taking advantage of our growing population and international port. In town, St. Marys Baptist Church in Lincolnville is hosting a gospel singing, free to the community, October 12, and the Limelight Theater is hosting a White Party on October 13. Check the Fort Mose African Market website for more events soon to be added.
“These side events are coming together organically,” says Anderson. St. Mary’s approached the Andersons when they heard of the African Market. Many in the black community feel that St. Augustine’s place in African American history is overlooked. Desegregation was a bitter battle with beaches being blocked and pools turned to acid to drive out activists. By 1963, only 6 black students were admitted to white schools with two students’ homes set fire and family members losing jobs and forced to move away. A sit-in at the Woolworth’s counter resulted in the detention of four juveniles, two of which were sent to “reform” school for 6 months until national publicity forced their release. Protestors faced the KKK with clansmen beating local black community leaders which outrageously resulted in the victims being charged with criminal assault. Dr. Martin Luther King was arrested in St. Augustine, the only city in Florida to hold that dubious honor. A truly integrated movement, St. Augustine’s protests included the arrest of Mary Parker Peabody, the 72-year old mother of the Massachusetts governor, and the largest mass arrest of rabbis in US history. The African Market reminds us of these stories while celebrating the now much more diverse and inclusive community spirit of St. Augustine.
Another side event, the White Party at the Limelight Theatre, welcomes partiers of all colors. Themed “white” as the color of purity, with all the colors of the rainbow in perfect harmony, White Parties started in the US in the 1980s and have grown to celebrity status around the world, welcoming diversity. Often fundraisers and linked with the LGBT community, White Parties feature all-white dress, contemporary music, glamour and fun. The African Market White Party is sponsored by Red Bull and Quiet Storm Vodka (giving out free shots!), a premium brand from Atlanta, Georgia. Tickets are $25 for the evening and limited to 125 attendees. Proceeds will cover African Market expenses with any surplus going to Ozilly Connections, a non-profit in Tampa working to improve the understanding of African culture along with the diversity of music and dance, reaching out to special needs children, those in juvenile facilities or jails, children and seniors in Florida and throughout the US. The Ozilly motto is “Let Art Bring Us Together!” All donations to the African Market go to Ozzilly Connections, a 501(C)3, and are tax deductible.
In the true market spirit of barter, the African Market has entered into many collaborations. Old Town Trolley Tours will be providing transportation from downtown St. Augustine to Fort Mose, one mile north of the City Gate on US 1 North, testing the route to add to its regular offerings. Clearly Jacksonville, a volunteer advisory committee promoting Jacksonville’s not-for-profit entities and community-based initiatives with digital billboard technology, has arrange for time on 13 digital billboards around Jacksonville promoting the African Market. Ethical Markets Media founder and president Hazel Henderson, a longtime supporter of Fort Mose who was involved in the early stages of designating the land for the state park system, has hosted multiple receptions at the Henderson-Kay-Schumacher Library to promote the event, with attendees ranging from city commissioners to local business owners to media. One such reception garnered a generous donation from Nena Vreeland, the first major donor to the Foot Soldiers Monument commemorating St. Augustine’s Civil Rights crusaders in the downtown Plaza de La Constitucion. Already mentioned, the Limelight Theater, Red Bull, Quiet Storm Vodka and Ozilly Connections all welcome the exposure to the diverse community expected to attend.
The African Market at Fort Mose is still looking for business sponsors, has several food and several craft vendor sites available, welcomes artists from the community and collaborations from the many cultural events and festivals being held in Jacksonville and St. Augustine before, during and immediately after the Fort Mose African Market. To participate, contact Yul Anderson at [email protected] or 404-368-0135.
While Anderson would be delighted with 3000 attendees, a quarter of all visitors to Fort Mose in a year, the three days of events hope to reach as many as 30,000 attendees, taking advantage of cultural tourism, St. Augustine’s many visitors, the African Market’s side events and channeling from and toward the other October celebrations in North Florida.