by Anne C. Heymen
Blacks and whites joined together Feb. 7 to offer carnations when the 55 African nations were named as part of an historic marker unveiling on the grounds of Mission Nombre de Dios in St. Augustine.
The mission ceremony was the second of a two-part commemoration of the Ancestral Remembrance Ceremony and the unveiling of the Middle Passage Marker. The remembrance ceremony honored those who died in the transatlantic voyage known as the Middle Passage and also paid tribute to those survivors who helped build this nation, ceremony participants told an audience which came from not only around Florida but from throughout the country.
“I’m here to make sure that everything goes as it should, and so far so good,” Ann Cobb, Baltimore, Md., a member of the Middle Passages executive board, explained just prior to the mission ceremony.
Gene and Wallis Tinnie traveled from Miami for the ceremonies. Gene is involved with the Middle Passages slave ship replica project, based in Miami and Delaware. And like many others, the Tinnies wore colorful African dress in recognition of the special day. In recapping events just before the unveiling, Wallis said she was most impressed with the “Call to Prayer” for African ancestors offered at the noon ceremony at the Castillo de San Marcos National Monument.
“This is a celebration of all faiths, Ella Simmons, co-chair of the St. Augustine Middle Passage Committee, told the afternoon gathering. The day’s tributes included prayers for African ancestors offered at the Castillo by Ann Cobb, Pastor Eugene Israel Jr., Mt. Carmel Primitive Baptist Church; and Professor William Hamilton Jr., SGI Buddhist.
Simmons also touched on the blacks through the centuries who were involved in the settlement and development of St. Augustine – including the six blacks who fought in the Civil War and are buried on Mission Nombre de Dios grounds and those blacks who helped build the Castillo. “Africans had a continual and crucial part of shaping this city and this country,” she said.
Father James Boddie Jr., of the Diocese of St. Augustine, emphasized how “our ancestors” contributed “so much of their lives through sorrow and pain. Honor them. Learn from them,” he urged just prior to being joined by Ernie Favors, of the Black Catholic Commission of the Diocese of St. Augustine, and others, as the historic marker was unveiled. The marker was financed by the Black Catholic Commission because it presented publicly for the first time the fact that there were 40 to 60 Catholic Africans who accompanied and arrived with Pedro Menéndez de Avíles in 1565 when founding St. Augustine. The marker is located near the water’s edge on the mission grounds within view of the Great Cross, erected in 1965 at the mission in recognition of St. Augustine’s 400th anniversary.
Thomas Jackson, St. Augustine Middle Passage Committee, was master of ceremonies for the day, and the Bowman-Seabrook Diocesan Youth Gospel Choir, Tallahassee, provided special music for the occasion.
At the noon remembrance ceremony Dr. Dorothy Israel, Fort Mose Historical Society, offered the historical statement; National Park Service superintendent Gordon Wilson welcomed the gathering; and Chief Justice Willis Johns, Seminole Nation, was introduced as the Native American representative. Also participating in the day’s events were Father Ted Voorhees, St. Cyprian Episcopal Church; and the Rev. Ron Rawls, St. Paul AME Church. St. Paul was a church that hosted Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. during the Civil Rights Movement, Jackson noted.