The Discover Fort Mose Jazz and Blues Series kicks off this weekend in St Augustine, Florida—the oldest city in the contiguous United States—in an effort to raise funds for Fort Mose Historic State Park, the earliest Black settlement in what would become the United States.
The concerts on the 284-year-old property are scheduled from now until the end of Black History Month, beginning this Friday, February 18th, with the Legendary Count Basie Orchestra.
“Fort Mose is one of the most important places in American history, and especially African-American history,” said Scotty Barnhart of the LCBO.
“It represents the ideals of freedom, democracy, and the aspirations of a people to live their lives fully and to participate in a society with all rights and privileges afforded to them as equal human beings.”
Each show will take place on the grounds of the historic North Florida fort, just two miles from the city’s Mission Nombre de Dios, where Europeans (as well as free and enslaved Africans) first settled in 1565 what would become the United States.
The mission attracted Blacks fleeing slavery in the British Colonies along the Eastern Seaboard, as King Charles II of Spain decreed in 1693 that those who entered Spanish Florida, joined its army, and agreed to convert to Catholicism would be given safe harbor.
By 1738, a fort (“Gracia Real de Santa Teresa de Mose”) was established north of St Augustine as an all-Black settlement and military outpost, lasting only 2 years before a British invasion led to its evacuation and eventual destruction in 1740.
The fort was rebuilt and repopulated with the local Black freedmen in 1752, but the region was ceded to the British themselves in 1763—occasioning the evacuation of the community to Cuba, and the dormancy of the site for the next two centuries.
The Black community of St Augustine—including its sole Black Catholic parish, St Benedict the Moor—later played a major role in the Civil Rights Movement, before the ruins and history of Fort Mose were rediscovered in 1968 with the help of local archaeologists and Black state legislators.
Organizers are now seeking to construct a model of the fort on the property with proceeds from the concert series.
(At present, the park consists of a small museum dedicated to the fort’s history and a large mass of swamps and greenery featuring replicas of historical items and flora.)
Two earlier events in the concert series, originally scheduled for last weekend with Christian McBride and Taj Mahal, were canceled in late December, presumably due to the spike in the Omicron variant of COVID-19.
Now, with revived restrictions easing nationwide and protocols in place, the music must go on.
Nate Tinner-Williams is co-founder and editor of Black Catholic Messenger, a seminarian with the Josephites, and a ThM student with the Institute for Black Catholic Studies at Xavier University of Louisiana (XULA).