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Story of Place

Key West has a special story to tell regarding slavery. Ironically it’s probably one of the earliest stories of our One Human Family philosophy.


The African Cemetery at Key West exists because, in 1860, three illegal slave ships were intercepted by the US Navy and diverted to Key West.  The Key West community was so appalled at the treatment of the human cargo that they worked collectively to provide food and shelter for the almost 1500 Africans who would have been sold into slavery.  Despite their efforts, hundreds of them died and were subsequently buried at Higgs Beach in what has come to be known as the African Cemetery. 

In the summer of 2002, a team of archaeologists and volunteers conducted a Ground-Penetrating Radar survey in the area of Higgs Beach to locate any evidence of the African Cemetery. Grids were laid out on the ground, and using a hand-towed antenna, radar signals were generated and their reflections measured.  The data was collected into a computer, and once processed, clear images of the subsurface structures were revealed. A series of shallow graves was found near the sidewalk on the beach.  During additional surveys in 2010, at least 100 more graves were located in other areas of the park, especially further inland.

The site is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places.  A memorial honors the African Burial Ground at Higgs Beach.  The historical and archaeological details of cemetery can be found on exhibit at the Mel Fisher Maritime Museum. located at 200 Greene Street in Key West.

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