Dr. Rosalyn Howard's Black Seminoles in the Bahamas and Her Legacy

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Windy Goodloe
May 27, 2024

Dr. Rosalyn Howard’s Black Seminole in the Bahamas and Her Legacy

by Windy Goodloe, secretary, Seminole Indian Scouts Cemetery Association


“This topic has both personal and professional significance to me,” Dr. Rosalyn Howard wrote in the introduction to her book Black Seminoles in the Bahamas. As one continues to read, Dr. Howard’s close relationship, along with her profound care and attentiveness, to her subject becomes apparent.

Black Seminoles in the Bahamas was printed in 2002. The publication was the culmination of years of research that Dr. Howard had performed as an anthropologist whose subject of choice was the Black Seminoles who made the Bahamas their home.

In the first chapter of her book, she discusses the history and ethnogenesis of the Black Seminoles. Howard discusses how enslaved Africans, who were located in the Lowcountry Region of the United States, absconded to Spanish Florida in search of freedom. Upon their arrival in La Florida, they encountered and soon formed an alliance with the Seminoles, which was a group of several indigenous tribes, made up of mostly Muscogees/Creeks, that had come together to form one tribe.

Because of Euroamericans’ constant encroachment on the Seminoles and Black Seminoles in Florida, several kept traveling south. They would take what is known as the Saltwater Underground Railroad to the Bahamas, where several would make a home in Red Bays, Andros Island. Howard writes that ethnohistorian Harry A. Kersey believes that most Black Seminoles arrived in the Bahamas between 1821 and 1837.

Howard documents the people of Andros Island as they tell their own story in the third chapter of her book. She serves as a conduit through which the history of the Black Seminoles comes alive. She adds historical context as needed.

I revisited Dr. Howard’s seminal work ahead of a special tribute presentation that took place on Wednesday, May 15. As the one-year anniversary of Dr. Howard’s passing neared, I wanted to pay tribute to her and her work in someway and thought that this was a good way to do so.

Everyone I reached out to responded with an enthusiastic yes, especially her son Jamil Smith, who embodies his mom’s passion and intelligence and is a force in his own right. For the presentation, his words served as bookends, perfectly encapsulating the fact that, foremost, Dr. Howard was a loving mom. He was the first to speak about his mom, and then, he closed the tribute by reading a beautiful statement that had been sent in by Dr. Grace Turner, who was unable to attend in person.

Other speakers included Dr. Anthony Dixon, author of Florida’s Negro War and the producer of the Black Seminole Project, who recounted his first encounter with Dr. Howard and how she challenged him to do the work. He also spoke about how he admired her ability to engage her audience and how he aspired to deliver his lectures just like she did.

Living historian Matt Griffin called Dr. Howard “family.” He first met her when he was a young. He even shared photos of the first day that they met.

Vickie Oldham spoke lovingly about her relationship with Dr. Howard. She read a beautiful tribute to her and then shared a humorous story about how she and Dr. Howard reacted, quite differently, to finding a lizard in a room while they were on a trip.

Dr. Wallis Tinnie honored Dr. Howard by speaking about how she’d written a moving recommendation letter for a grant that Dr. Wallis’ Florida Black Historical Research Foundation, Inc. received. She also recounted how Dr. Howard surprised everyone when she attended last year’s Seminole Maroon Family Reunion in Jupiter, FL.  

Dinizulu Gene Tinnie spoke after Dr. Wallis Tinnie, and he spoke about how groundbreaking it was for Dr. Howard to shape her anthropologic career after Zora Neale Hurston’s example.

Stefan Moss, founder/project lead of the Saltwater Underground Railroad, spoke about how he reached out to Dr. Howard and how gracious she was to him.

And Jamil Smith read Dr. Grace Turner’s statement. In the statement, she spoke about how Dr. Howard always respected her knowledge as a Bahamian and how she was her “big sister.”

This tribute to Dr. Rosalyn Howard only solidified our determination to keep her memory burning bright.