African American Cemeteries Forum
African Cemetery at Key West, Florida
The Key West African Memorial Committee announces the installation and unveiling of a State of Florida Historical Marker on Saturday, March 24, 2001 in our island city marking our newly discovered African Cemetery, finally, after 141 years.
It is the only known African cemetery in this hemisphere. In 1860 three American-owned slave ships approaching Cuba, their destination, from Africa were captured by the U. S. Navy and brought into the nearest American port, Key West.
Over 1,400 survivors from the slave ships arrived at Key West, then with a population of only 3,000. They were cared for by the local population and U. S. officials but nearly 300 never left Key West, perishing here from diseases of the hold. Over 300 had died on the ships before their capture by the Navy; hundreds more afterward, on the voyage from Key West to Liberia the same year.
The 294 Africans that died at Key West were buried on what is now a public beach. Two years after their burials a Union fortification (in Confederate Florida!) was built on the site, and the cemetery, which was located quite a distance from the "town" at that time, was completely forgotten with this event and the war. The fortification, somewhat in ruins, still exists.
In addition to the historical marker we would like to build a world-class memorial to the Africans who lived in Key West for some 80 days, and who died here, along the outside walls of the fort (West Martello Tower). We need intellectual, emotional, and financial support to accomplish this. Contact me directly; we are preparing more information to be distributed soon.
Gail Swanson, Historian