Pensacola’s African-American Heritage Tourism got a shot in the arm on the very weekend that the Blue Angels drew 100,000 visitors to Pensacola Beach. Can you believe it? Visitors from Moss Point, Mississippi actually came to Pensacola to tour the Black Heritage Trail that they learned about during the Florida Black Caucus-Local Elected Officials Conference held at the Crown Plaza Hotel. In fact, the organizer of the group was Cathy Keeton, the Director of Community Development of the City of Moss Point. She serves as the Director of a young male leadership development program which is teaching them to understand the principles of structural inequality and its impact on their lives and how there are laws which serve to protect them.
The group of three adults and approximately twenty young Black males were provided a presentation by Teniade (Toni) Broughton on Black life in Colonial Pensacola at the Kate Coulson House the home of the African-American Heritage Society (AAHS) on Church Street in the Historic Pensacola Village. Broughton, a staff researcher for the AAHS, is becoming known for her captivating tours covering the Pensacola Black Heritage Trail. She informed the group about life in Pensacola under Spanish rule, which attracted enslaved Blacks from South Carolina, Georgia and surrounding territories searching for their freedom. “Free Africans in Florida created the foundation for progress that would last over a century” she said.
Following the presentation, the group began a walking tour of the Historic Pensacola Village filing past the Old Christ Church where a wedding was about to begin. The AAHS gives narration about the Historic Village as told from the Black perspective. “When we teach about Old Christ Church, we are sure to include the story of the Black folks who worshipped here, and the enslaved people who built it,” said Broughton. Questions were asked about the Brewery across the street from the church and the different offices that dotted the right-of-way with their historic design and architecture.
The next stop was the Julee Panton Cottage at 210 E. Zaragossa Street which was named after a free African American woman who lived in the house in 1803. Described as a middle class home, the house is complete with a kitchen, a furnished parlor room, and bedroom. As the group entered the village, they were greeted by a young lady dressed in colonial costume who shared what life during that time period was like. Broughton assisted in the showing of the Julee Cottage and the Museum of Commerce.
During this tour, the group was joined by Debra Watts, Co-Founder and Board President of the Emmett Till Legacy Foundation which brought an actual relative of the Chicago youth that was savagely tortured and murdered in Mississippi in August of 1955. She described the work of the foundation to never let the memory of his death be forgotten. Most of the young men did not know the story of Emmett Till.
Next stop for the Mississippi group was the Historic Belmont and DeVilliers Business District, where Cathy Keeton dined and relaxed at the Five Sisters Restaurant with the attendees of the Florida Black Caucus Conference in earlier in the year. Cathy remembered the restaurant and the area and wanted the young men to see it for themselves. The group was led to The Gathering Bookstore and was hosted by its owner, Georgia Blackman, and Rev. John Powell of the Belmont Cultural Center and Truth for Youth Organization who responded to the questions of the young men. One of the visiting youth asked Blackman why she went into business for herself. The answer she gave can be heard when you visit the store to hear the pride in her voice when she responds to that question. It was classic story-telling by Georgia Blackman, who moved from her location on North “E” St. to occupy the store front retail space formerly inhabited by the Gumbo Gallery. She encouraged the young men to read the book “The Mis-Education of the Negro” by Carter Woodson. Before they group departed several of the boys took Blackman’s advice pulling out their wallets to purchase books.
African-American Heritage Tourism is hot around the nation with the opening of the National African American History Museum opening in Washington D.C. When Visit Pensacola was approved by the Escambia County Commission on Tuesday September 24, 2013 to manage funding generated by visitors that stay in Pensacola or Escambia County the ideas and strategies began to emerge in Pensacola’s Black Community.