African Cemetery at Higgs Beach
Story of Discovery
Many of the Africans were quite ill from the harsh, inhumane conditions they endured aboard the slave ships during their 1860 voyage from the Coast of Western Africa. Despite the efforts of the community to restore their health, 295 of the Africans died during the eighty-five days they remained in Key West.
Records indicated that a cemetery was established for them on a sand ridge along the southern shore of the island. Today the area is part of a public park.
In 1990, Florida Keys historian Gail Swanson stumbled across clues that led ultimately to the search for the African Cemetery in Key West. In June 2002, the Mel Fisher Maritime Museum proposed and organized an archaeological survey of Higgs Beach to search for the African Cemetery. Working with Monroe County staff, a team of archaeologists and volunteers conducted a Ground-Penetrating Radar survey to locate any physical evidence of the long-lost site. The data that was collected gave clear images of graves lined in rows along the beach.
Because of the sanctity of the graves, the site was not excavated.
The Key West Africans' Memorial Committee organized a ceremony to consecrate the African Cemetery on September 16 2002. Adegbolu Adefunmi, prince (now King) of the Yoruba African tribe in America, sprinkled water on the ground over the site while performing an ancient African ceremony honoring and remembering the dead.
A local minister led the gathering in prayer for the dead, and Prince Adefunmi performed a special ceremony mainly in the Yoruba language.