Cruising past the ritzy residences of Key Biscayne and beyond a long stretch of coastal wildlife lies Miami's Cape Florida Lighthouse, a beacon of freedom in the Saltwater Underground Railroad.
Today, families fish among the coast and couples saunter in the sand, but between 1821 to 1861, it marked the spot for slaves to escape to the Bahamas in pursuit of freedom, a 150 mile route. 200 years ago,this lighthouse lit the way to liberty south as opposed to the more common Underground Railroad path that lead runaway slaves to northern states and Canada. Runaways who had the money were afforded an easier passage, via Bahamian boat, and those without fare, took on the perils of the Atlantic in handmade canoes.
Boat days in Key Biscayne are that of leisure and luxury today, but back then, a boat day was a passage to a better life, one that represented luxuries not present to Blacks at the time. Black Floridians stealthily navigated through treacherous hurdles like thick swamps, marshes, mangrove forests and aggressive terrain to make it to the lighthouse, in the hopes of making voyage to the Bahamas. While the perilous terrain on land posed enough of a hassle, dangers lurked among runaway slaves on the sea as well, in the form of pirates or ocean storms.
The lure of the Bahamas brought an unimaginable life to those who escaped slavery, one with the possibility of marriage, owning land, and getting an education. The ability to thrive in a mainly black oasis that boasted promise like the Bahamas was a vast contrast to the daily brutalities experienced by slaves in the antebellum south at that time. Free blacks that escaped fit in with the other African descendants of the Bahamas, along with the Seminoles that resided on the island in pursuit of a better life than America promised.
Black history surrounds us when we may not even realize, in places we may not expect, and certainly not limited to the month of February. The sands and tides of the Cape Florida Lighthouse are beyond just a fun beach day, they carry the history and legacy of those strong enough to brave the ocean to pursue a life of freedom.