America's untold journey begins in Florida

By Sharie Johnson |

Published 02/08 2016 12:43PM

Updated 02/08 2016 06:14PM

As the nation celebrates Black History month, many are asking, "Where did it really begin?"

8 News NOW is trying to answer that question by going back to a era that pre-dates slavery.

It takes us to a town in Florida where America's Untold journey truly begins. The year is 1565 and the first New World is taking shape.

Special Section: America's Untold Journey

The first people of African heritage who came to the Americans both here in the U.S. and in Latin America were free," said Dr. Kathleen Deagan, University of Florida.

"The New World was built by three groups, the Europeans, the indigenous and the Afrikaners and that without any of those three, this would not have happened," said James Bullock.

The colonists had a tremendous stake in this particular venture called the enterprise of Florida.

"Free blacks became shopkeepers and merchants and artisans and craftsmen. In other words, what makes the colony function," said Dr. Michael Francis, University of South Florida.

There is a baptism of a free black child in St. Augustine three years before Jamestown is even founded," Bullock said.

Most of the slaves that were brought to Spanish Florida were domestic slaves or royal slaves who had very specific, highly refined skills.

"You also see African women in the late 16th century and early 17th century who serves really as the first nurse, the first recorded nurse in the hospital of Santa Barbara in St. Augustine," Francis said.

By the mid-to-late 1700s, the Spanish mission of keeping La Florida to themselves had failed.

"The English tried to colonize North America with, at first, indentured servants and a promise of seven years of labor. What they will find is that being a slave for 7 years, it might as well be a lifetime.  Now, the Spanish did not shy away from large  scale ruthless enslavement for blacks, there were now two Americas, one English, one Spanish and the difference between them could not be more striking," Francis said.

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