Photo: Cha-Chi's Village plaque to mark Seminole Village in what became West Palm Beach, Florida. Seminole Maroon Families will be re-uniting there January 13 and 14, 2024.
by Windy Goodloe, secretary, Seminole Indian Scouts Cemetery Association (SISCA)
At the end of last year’s Seminole Maroon Family Reunion, we (Corina Torralba, treasurer of SISCA and I) began making plans to attend this year’s event. Why? Because the space that the Tinnies of Florida Black Historical Research Project Inc. (FBHRP) have fostered is one of warmth, inclusivity, openness, and love. It is familial and familiar. This truly has become a family reunion that I look forward to attending each year.
This year, the focus was on those who stayed in Florida, such as Sam Jones (Abiaka) and Cha-Chi, and the Saltwater Underground Railroad (aka the Bahamas). On Saturday, January 13 at 10:00 AM, we gathered at Sunset Park, located in West Palm Beach, Florida, for the Cha-Chi’s Village Memorial Ceremony, which included a plaque dedication. The event, which was moderated by Professor Michelle T. Riley, included an invocation by Reverend Gerald Kisner. After the invocation, short speeches were given by the Honorable Cathleen Ward, who is the commissioner for the City of West Palm Beach, District 1, Mrs. Annie Ruth Harrison, with the African American Research Library and Cultural Center of Palm Beach County, Brother Victor D. Norfus with the Heart of Boynton Unity Project, and Professor Derek Hankerson.
Dr. Wallis H. Tinnie, president of FBHRP, gave the opening speech. She spoke beautifully and passionately about the all the work that had gone into preparing for the day and how the ancestors had helped and approved every step of the process. Dr. Anthony Dixon gave a brief history about the Florida Maroon Community that inhabited the area. Mr. Dinizulu Gene Tinnie, who designed the plaque, spoke eloquently about his work.
The plaque reads: “Seminole Maroon Remembrance Site: Indigenous Land Acknowledgment: Cha-Chi’s Village: A prominent Seminole settlement, with a probable connection to Cha-Chi’s Landing, a historical site once identified in what is now Downtown West Palm Beach, was located in this general area before and during the Second Seminole War, 1835-1842. The site, with its wealth of verdant and thriving crop fields, was destroyed by U.S. military forces in 1841, following the capture of Cha-Chi and his wife Polly, among other captures, deaths, and forced deportation on the Trail of Tears to Oklahoma Territory under the Indian Removal Act of 1830.”
It goes on to say: “This memorial is placed by the City of West Palm Beach in cooperation with Florida Black Historical Research Project Inc. and the African American Research Library and Cultural Center of P.B. (Palm Beach) County. It was made possible by grants from ArtLife WPB, the National Trust for Historic Preservation, and the National Endowment for the Humanities.”
Brian Forbing and his Capital Battery Line closed out the program with their rhythmic cadences and impressive showmanship.
After the plaque dedication, we toured Boynton Beach and stopped at special sites along the way, including Brother Victor Norfus’s92-year-old mom’s house. We ended the day with a panel discussion about the Saltwater Underground Railroad, featuring Professor Stefan Moss, Dr. Grace Turner, and Dr. Anthony Dixon. They discussed Google maps exploration of the Saltwater Underground Railroad, Angola, and Andros, respectively. The Boynton Bahamian Dancers entertained the crowd with their lively dance moves and even got everyone up on their feet a few times.
On Sunday, January 14 at 10:00 AM, we gathered at the Loxahatchee Battlefield Park for the 186th Anniversary of the Annual Seminole Maroon Spiritual Remembrance of the Two Battles of the Loxahatchee River. This event, in my humble opinion, is deeply healing and cathartic. We gathered in front of Isa’s Tree, which was dedicated on May 20, 2023, on Florida’s Emancipation Day. Dr. Wallis Tinnie and Mr. Dinizulu Gene Tinnie welcomed everyone. Afterward, group of Buffalo Soldier reenactors, dressed in period uniforms, performed “Taps” and presented the colors.
The guest speaker was Professor Magdalena LaMarre. Her presentation was entitled “Sourcing Florida’s Maroon Communities.” Even though her speech was brief, she gave a thorough history of the Black Seminoles and even mentioned Brackettville and El Nacimiento. After her speech, a panel featuring Prof. Stefan Moss, Mr. Thomas Mitchell, Dr. Grace Turner, and Prof. Derek Hankerson discussed the Seminole Maroons of the Saltwater Underground Railroad. The panel was moderated by Dr. Anthony Dixon. And just like the day before, the program concluded with Brian Forbing’s excellent Capital Battery Line.
This year’s event also acknowledged the passing of two luminaries — Dr. Rosalyn Howard and Richard Procyk. Dr. Howard’s research on the Black Seminoles of the Bahamas is seminal. She is deeply missed. Richard Procyk was a champion of the Loxahatchee River Battlefield Park. Several of his dear friends spoke lovingly about him. Like Dr. Howard, his loss is immeasurable.
On a personal note, I had the pleasure of meeting the most extraordinary seven-year-old. As she and her mom and a few of her friends were walking toward where the event was taking place, I saw that she was carrying a small bouquet of freshly picked flowers. I asked her what she was going to do with the flowers, and she said that she wanted to place them at Isa’s tree. She asked me to accompany her, and I happily obliged. Before she placed the flowers at the base of the tree, she said a prayer, and the words she spoke left me in awe. She understood why we had gathered there, and she wanted to do her part to bring peace, love, and unity. In her tiny hands, our future is safe. I can’t wait to return next year to see her and everyone else who I have come to consider family.