The voices of this community’s past could be a compass to our future
The streets and buildings of Bahama Village speak to me. I was told by a friend that the spirits around the cemetery are more active after midnight, and that I should go there then and the ancestors will speak to me. I don’t know if that’s true, but I do know that I hear the voices of the streets and buildings speaking out and their voices are louder in certain places.
My recent work with the historic institutions of Bahama Village has made me aware of the buried and interesting — but ever-present — past that surrounds Bahama Village. And if I’m attentive with my eyes and ears, I can hear and see the voices and visions of the past speaking out, sometimes shouting.
When I walk past Cornish Memorial AME Zion, I hear the voice of Sandy Cornish, a former slave who mutilated himself to reduce his value to his slave owner, shouting “don’t give up, stand up for your people, God has not forsaken us.” And they, former slaves, built with their own hands in 1864, one year after Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, a church at the corner of Angela and Whitehead streets. They built the rafters and other parts of the church’s interior using wood from the slave ships that brought African slaves here.
Maybe that’s why the church was the location of choice for Douglass High School (which was displaced when the Navy took the land that it sat on), a health clinic, AA and NA meetings, Cub Scout, Girls Scout and Boys Scout groups. Maybe that’s what Mrs. Ruby Bain was hearing that pushed her to keep those snotty-nosed Boys Scouts together. And Girls Scouts.
That makes sense, too. That’s why we have so many leaders from that era, because they were taught to memorize and practice the Scouts’ oath and laws. You know, like duty to God and country; helping others; staying physically and mentally strong, morally straight, trustworthy, loyal, helpful, reverent, etc. Hats off to Mrs. Bain! May her tribe increase.
Maybe that’s why the church is packed and everyone so enthralled when Roosevelt Sands Jr. recites the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I have a dream” speech.
Maybe that’s what drew the Rev. James Thornton to come to such a remote location to a then-struggling church — even though he has earned master’s degrees in clinical psychology, mathematics and sacred theology.
Maybe that is what pushed Mr. Charles Major Sr., the oldest living member of Cornish and president of the NAACP, to push through on the integration of the Navy yard bathrooms and Monroe County schools.
Walking down past Petronia Street, I turn the corner onto Emma and I heard another voice saying: “No one is free until we all are free.” I look up and I am standing in front of the William Weech Post No. 168, the American Legion hall built in 1952. Maybe that’s what Mr. Weech thought when he went to serve his country during World War I; even though, as a black American, he did not have the same rights as his fellow soldiers. He knew that we are all one with a linked destiny.
This voice of a linked destiny drew the founding fathers together. Samuel Donzel Leggett, Charles Major Sr., John B. Knowles Sr. and Alfred Allen, elder statesmen of our community, labored together with others to get the building completed. Mr. Allen was a carpenter and supervisor of the job. Mr. Knowles was a carpenter and mason. Others heard and responded to that voice, like architect C.B. Harvey, who provided free services for the building. He was mayor at that time.
With 10,000 Navy personnel, and few places for blacks to go outside of the churches, the VFW was the place to go, with over 100 members. Their walls echo with sounds and voices of the past. The great black performers such as James Brown and BB King all played there because blacks could not go to anyplace else in Key West at that time.
I believe that voice of a linked destiny drove the members to donate to local churches, offer the hall to families who fell victim to fires and to sponsor Scouting troops.
That’s it. Now I know the source of the voices I hear when I approach the areas of Southard, Angela, Emma, and Thomas streets, now a part of Truman Annex. I hear the voices of the children who used to attend Douglass Junior and High School there prior to their demolition. That area used to be a part of La Africana, the predecessor to Bahama Village and the first place settled by liberated African slaves, Bahamian settlers, and Cuban exiles.
Let’s listen and learn from the voices and our history. Let’s get our kids back to Scouting. Let’s stand up and not give up. Let’s remember that we are not free until all are free, and God has not forgotten us.
Wheeler Winstead is a community development specialist and deputy director of the Bahama Conch Community Land Trust. His column appears here every other Sunday. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org
Sunday, August 24, 2008
Wednesday, August 13, 2008
This Friday morning (August 15), BCCLT Deputy Director Wheeler Winstead will be interviewed on the US1 Radio (104.1 on the FM dial) show Morning Magazine. Wheeler's timeslot in the show is expected to be soon after the 8am news segment (though that's subject to change).
If you won't be near a Monroe County radio at that time, you can listen on the web using this link: http://www.us1radio.com/us1radio.asx
That should open up in your Media player. If it doesn't work for you, try the "listen live" link on US1 Radio's website: HERE
If you miss the live broadcast, later in the day on Friday it will be archived and can be replayed from the "FRIDAY" link on the Morning Magazine webpage . That link will work for the week following the show (until the following Friday show replaces it).
Sunday, August 10, 2008
Key West residents should band together to improve Bahama Village
The idea of a harmonious village of diverse peoples from various cultures living together is the dream, vision and desire of many in Key West and America. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. described it in his “I Have a Dream” speech.
But today I call it Bahama Village and today I call it forth. I call forth a village working together, taking care of one another, enjoying the diversity of cultures. Enjoying and celebrating the food, music, art, language, smells and sites.
One can see glimpses of it throughout the community, glimpses of how a community can take care of, support and protect itself. Bahama Village, come forth.
I see it being born and rising ever so slowly. I see it coming forth in Ms. Millie, sewing and chatting with all who come through her open door. I smell it coming forth in the great ribs Kenny serves up every Saturday in front of the Coral City Elks Lodge and Venda’s conch fritters being cooked outside on her porch and Gena’s wonderful cakes, which she makes just for the asking.
Recently, I saw a wonderful manifestation of it rising on Geraldine Street. There was a small fire outside a building at the 100 block of Geraldine Street. The resident accused an acquaintance, to whom I’ll refer as Mr. X. I was there investigating and decided to go to the corner store for some water for the firemen to cool off. While there, I heard the owner, Mr. Acosta, talking to Mr. X. He explained that he was being blamed for the fire and urged him to go there and straighten it out. Mr. Acosta then offered to go with him.
They both walked back to the scene together and Mr. X went to the police, who were now there investigating the incident. Mr. Acosta stayed there the entire time. That’s neighbor taking care of neighbor. Bahama Village is coming forth.
And then there was the incident when in front of Mr. Acosta’s store I was looking for a Sunday paper. Mr. Acosta was talking with one of the young men from the Major family. I thought he was the state wrestling champion and congratulated him on his accomplishments. He corrected me and said it was another family member and he was a bouncer at Rick’s Bar. He had a Sunday paper.
Mr. Acosta and the young Major were talking about young people these days. And Mr. Acosta was giving him counsel on how he would have handled a certain situation that the young Major encountered at the bar. I joined right in. We all talked for a minute before I resumed my search for a paper. I checked the two paper machines near the store and they were empty. Coming back to the store, young Mr. Major saw me empty-handed and simply offered his paper to me. Bahama Village is coming forth.
Bahama Village rises in the strangest place among apparent unsuspecting persons. Take, for example, the recent reggae concert at the Southernmost Hotel. There I saw Rick Rossi seated at the VIP table with Ms. Barbara Sands and a guest.
Or better yet, my chance encounter there with Mayor Morgan McPherson. I happened to be smoking a cigar when we ran into one another. We had a very friendly greeting and he commented on my cigar. He said that he had one that was really nice, a CAO Mx2. He pulled it out of his shirt pocket and immediately offered to me. Seeing that this was his last, I refused to take it. He insisted.
I took it only with the commitment that I could return the favor someday and buy him a drink. He agreed. I brought him a drink and sat down to enjoy the rest of the concert. By the way, that was an excellent cigar. Thanks, Mayor. Don’t forget about your promise.
No birth happens without some pain and struggle. No rose comes without thorns. No great triumph without a great battle. This dream for Bahama Village will not come forth without struggle, pain and hardship. I see the thorns and pain, too. But I see more, much more.
I call all men, women and children of Key West and beyond to join with me and the others in calling Bahama Village forth — to fight against our own fears, prejudices, misconceptions and those who want to destroy our unity and peace.
Bahama Village is coming forth. On Petronia Street again I see...
Wheeler Winstead is a community development specialist and deputy director of the Bahama Conch Community Land Trust. His column appears here every other Sunday.