Monday, August 4, 2014

Key West African Cemetery

It's on the National a Register of a Historic Places and it has been for the past two years. I came out here on a recent lunch break, looking to get some quiet after hours of taking 911 calls. In 1860 the African slaves washed ashore here needed help and they got what you might expect at a time when thousands of Americans were dying to maintain the peculiar institution.
Technically they were refugees freed from American slave ships en route to Cuba, and intercepted by the U S Navy. Dumped in the beach the only person available to help turned out to the Postmaster, the senior Federal representative in the city, which was in Union hands throughout the Civil War.
1400 people were rescued and 1100 were returned to Africa, which is a big continent so they were not exactly returned home. 295 they say died here and were ploughed into the ground and forgotten. It is not an edifying story unhappily.
At the beginning of this century ground penetrating radar located some of the forgotten bodies. As a result they built and dedicated this spot to remember the fiasco. African Burial Ground at Higgs Beach
It's hard to imagine the unutterable misery of people ripped from their homes and packed like sardines for weeks at sea to spend the rest of their lives treated as cattle. How they stayed alive and didn't go mad is beyond my comprehension. Especially as the white people who owned them had so little regard for people who worked so hard on so little food to a degree most of their owners could never manage.
It was a humid windy night in this suggestive place and I have to confess it was not as relaxing as I had hoped. Frankly I started to get a bit creeped out as the shadows danced and the wind moaned and a lone cyclist crept up on me and startled me out of my skin with a polite "Good morning!"

I went back to the lights and the strong locked doors of the police station.