The 185-Year Seminole Maroon Family Reunion: “Telling the Full History”

Windy Goodloe
January 19, 2023

by Windy Goodloe, secretary, The Seminole Indian Scouts Cemetery Association

Jupiter, a lush city located on the southeastern coast of Florida, served as host for a beautiful event that took place January 11-15. Florida Black Historical Research Project, Inc. (FBHRP) presented “Telling the Full History”: The 185-Year Seminole Maroon Family Reunion at Loxahatchee River Battlefield Park. This annual event is many things rolled into one: It is a family reunion. It is a spiritual remembrance of the two January 1838 battles at Loxahatchee River. It is also an opportunity for important dialogues to start and continue.

Ahead of the start of the event, FBHRP received a proclamation from the Board of County Commissioners of Palm Beach County, Florida, declaring January 11-15, 2023, Seminole Maroon Remembrance Days. The proclamation was sponsored by Commissioner Maria G. Marino, and it noted that “two pivotal battles during the Second Seminole War took place on January 15 and 24, 1838, at an established Seminole and Black Seminole settlement in Palm Beach County.” 

Since 1996, FBHRP has held this annual observance to raise awareness about this little-known history. FBHRP received a $50,000 grant from the National Trust for Historic Preservation and the National Endowment for the Humanities. The grant was titled “Telling the Full History.” It allowed FBHRP to put on an event that was extensive, fulfilling, and unforgettable.

I first became acquainted with FBHRP and the Tinnies, the lovely family behind it, when I was invited to speak at FBHRP’s annual event in 2020. Dr. Anthony Dixon, who had spoken at our 2019 Seminole Days in Brackettville, Texas, suggested that I be invited to speak. Because of how welcomed and loved I was there, I decided to make sure that I attended the event annually. Not long after I returned to Texas, the whole world shut down because of the COVID-19 pandemic. No worries, though. For the next two years, the Tinnies (Dr. Wallis, Dinizulu Gene, Antoinette, and Michelle) continued the event virtually, and they were able to pull together people from each location in the Black Seminole/Seminole Maroon diaspora. 

In 2022, the word went out that the annual family reunion would be in-person again. Ahead of this, the Tinnies (Dr. Wallis and Dinizulu Gene) traveled to Brackettville for Seminole Days, our annual celebration, and put out the word about their 2023 event. With each passing month, I heard small bits about what was being planned, and needless to say, my excitement grew exponentially as the date approached.

When we (Corina Torralba Harrington, SISCA’s treasurer, and I) arrived, we were greeted by warm and familiar faces and sunny Florida weather. On Wednesday, the first night of the event, we attended the first official event, which was a reception at a quaint hotel called The Seminole Inn. This was the first chance for all the “early bird” attendees to gather in one place and see who all was there. On that first night, over amazing food and conversation, friendships were made that would be forged over the next four days.   

Thursday morning, we all woke up bright and early and boarded a charter bus that took us on a historic tour of the area. We went to the Limestone Creek area, Mount Carmel Missionary Baptist Church and cemetery, the Lakeside Ranch Stormwater Treatment Area, and the former site of Cha Chi’s Village. Our tour guide was Tom Odom, who is a member of the Loxahatchee Battlefield Preservationists. 

At Mount Carmel Missionary Baptist Church and at the Lakeside Ranch Stormwater Treatment Area, a traditional African libation ceremony was performed by Theodore Lush from Alabama. He performed this ceremony a total of four times throughout the five days, and each experience was incredibly moving and powerful. 

The conclusion of the tour culminated with an amazing lunch (fried and baked chicken, salmon, rice and peas, greens, mac and cheese, and cake) at the church that Dr. Wallis Tinnie attended as a little girl.

Thursday evening, we gathered in Palm Beach State College’s Meldon Hall for the Professional Development Seminar titled “Florida’s Seminole Maroon History.” We were welcomed by Tracey Olsen-Oliver, who is the dean of Palm Beach State College. Jennifer Cirillo, director of Palm Beach County Parks and Recreation, also spoke. Michelle Riley, secretary of the FBHRP, served as mistress of ceremonies.

Dr. Martha Bireda and Dr. Wallis Tinnie were introduced by Brian Knowles, who is the manager of the Office of African, African American, Latino, Holocaust, and Gender Studies, School District of Palm Beach County. Dr. Bireda and Dr. Tinnie’s speeches were collectively entitled “Language, Literature, and History.”

Dr. Martha Bireda, who is the author of Obi: Seminole Maroon Freedom Fighter, discussed Maroon consciousness and how the lessons in her book help young children improve their self-image. Dr. Wallis Tinnie’s speech entitled “Children’s Literature and Historical Context” centered around the children’s book Magnolia Flower by Zora Neale Hurston, which was adapted by Ibram X. Kendi. Participants received a copy of each book, along with a beautifully and thoughtfully produced program.

The next speakers were Stefan Moss (via Zoom) and Dr. Anthony Dixon. Their speech was entitled “Saltwater Underground Railroad Experience: Retracing Pathways to Freedom using Google Earth.” This talk showed how Google Earth can be used to transport its users to areas where our history took place. We can get ground level with landmarks and see them in real time, even if we are hundreds of miles away.

The next speech was given by yours truly. I spoke about the Black Seminoles of Texas and Mexico, and I can’t say enough how much I appreciated the kindness and attentiveness of the audience.

Friday also presented a full slate of talks and events titled “Freedom Trails and Marronage,” as we all gathered back at Palm Beach State College. After a beautifully worded land acknowledgment by poet, artist, environmental activist, and ordained minister Reverend Houston Cypress of the Miccosukee, we headed into Meldon Hall.

Dinizulu Gene Tinnie introduced Dr. Anthony Dixon, the keynote speaker. Dixon, who is the author of Florida’s Negro War, spoke about the Black Seminoles of Florida. Afterward, we watched a beautiful video about the Bahamas presented by Michelle Bowleg and Dr. Rosalyn Howard. Anthropologist Dr. Uzi Baram’s talk, which was entitled “Angola on the Manatee River: Groundwork for Understanding the Nature of Black-Centered Maroon Communities in Early Florida,” was interesting as he spoke about his intensive and extensive studies. Archaeologist Dr. Grace Turner’s talk was titled “Welcome to Red Bays, Andros – The Big Yard in the Bahamas.” During her talk, she further explained the culture of the Bahamas and made us all crave a home we haven’t visited yet. Dr. Daniel Littlefield, who is the director of the Sequoyah Research Center, spoke about “Seminole Maroon Citizenship” via Zoom, and his quick-witted answers before his talk provided lots of comic relief. 

Following these talks, Anastasia Pittman of Oklahoma, Maria Francisca Munoz Garza and her daughter Nere Bernal of Coahuila, Mexico, and Frank Garcia of Texas participated in a panel in which they discussed their Seminole Maroon-ness.

Cynthia Atchico of Oklahoma discussed the “Identity Formation in Descendants of Seminole Negro Indian Scouts.” Afterward, we watched Joseph Hill’s Black Border Warriors and had a Q&A with Mr. Hill (via Zoom) and Ms. Atchico.

On Saturday, which saw the temperatures drop drastically as a cold front moved in, we gathered in the Loxahatchee River Battlefield Park for “Oral History in the Park|Voices from Exile and Reunion.” The day began with a welcome performance entitled “Language of the Drum” by Brian Forbing and the Capital Battery Line. Tony “Thomi” Perryman of California was the first speaker of the day. He spoke about “Honoring Our Legacy.” Next, Victor D. Norfus spoke about being a Florida Seminole Maroon descendant. Thomas Mitchell of Florida spoke about the history of Sandy Cornish. Following Mr. Mitchell’s speech, there was another amazing performance by Brian Forbing’s Capital Battery Line. 

Next up were the Oklahoma Seminole Maroon descendants – Anastasia Pittman, Willard Tillman, and Cynthia Atchico. Afterward, Richard Wilder spoke about Buffalo Soldier history. Following Mr. Wilder were Corina Torralba Harrington, Dina Arredondo Rodriguez, her daughter Ashley Rodriguez, Maria Frances Munoz Garza, and her daughter Nere Bernal. They represented Mexico’s Seminole Maroon descendants. Bringing up the rear were Frank Garcia and I. We talked about and represented the Seminole Maroon descendants from Texas. 

Following the oral history presentation, the Junkanoo Band (in all of their festive and bright attire) entertained the crowd as they proudly represented the Bahamas. The day ended with battlefield tours guided by the Loxahatchee Battlefield Preservationists.

On Sunday, we observed the 185th anniversary of the annual spiritual remembrance. This event takes place each year, always on the Sunday before MLK Jr. Day, and was entitled “Voices of Commemoration and Remembrance.” The events were presided over by FBHRP board member Dinizulu Gene Tinnie. 

The morning began with an indigenous preparatory smudging of the area and an opening prayer by Raining Deer. Those who wanted to participate were smudged with sage and given ground corn kernels that we could whisper our prayers to. We then sprinkled the kernels onto the ground. Theodore Lush performed his traditional African ceremony. Afterward, Rodney “Red Chief” Thornton spoke. He was followed by Erwin Atchico from Oklahoma who guided the crowd through a peace pipe ceremony. Members of the Buffalo Solders of Florida Inc. stood guard as Carle Vickers played “Taps.” Following the playing of “Taps”, Dinizulu Gene Tinnie provided a welcome. 

Next, Pastor Joe Torres’ beautiful voice rang out, as he sang “A Change is Gonna Come” and a few other selections. After Pastor Torres’ musical performance, Dr. Wallis Tinnie introduced the keynote speaker, Dr. Chris Cornelius, who is a citizen of the Oneida Nation of Wisconsin and chair of the Department of Architecture at the University of New Mexico. He founded studio:indigenous, which is a design practice serving indigenous clients.

Following Dr. Cornelius’ address, Sixteen Suns delighted the crowd with his musical stylings. He played two original pieces and concluded his performance with a cover of Jimi Hendrix’s “All Along the Watchtower.” 

There was a moving tribute to the late Isa Hamm Bryant, who was the founder of FBHRP. Dr. Wallis Tinnie, our fearless leader, closed out the event by thanking everyone who attended.

Tours of Riverbend Park were conducted by the Palm Beach County Parks and Recreation Department, while battlefield tours were provided by the Loxahatchee Battle Preservationists.

It isn’t easy to succinctly sum up everything that happened over the five days that this annual event took place. What I saw was all the planning, hard work, and love that went into putting this event together. FBHRP and the Tinnies provided a central location where we (Seminole Maroons/Black Seminoles) could gather to really see and really hear each other. Every single one of our concerns couldn’t be addressed and ironed out in five days, but the groundwork has been laid for lots of dialogue, thought, and healing. 

My body might be back in Texas, but my head and a large part of my heart are still in Florida.