Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Difference Makers

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Difference Makers

Article excerpt

Byline: terry brown

derek hankerson

St. Augustine is a city steeped in rich history, and many families living in the city trace their ancestry back to some of the earliest settlers in the New World. While many of those family names roll off the tongue with a Spanish flair, there also are families of African descent, who contributed greatly to the early vitality of the city.

Ask Derek Hankerson about his heritage and he'll proudly trace his genealogy from the plantations of Charleston, S.C. He says his descendents made their arduous journey to St. Augustine by way of the Underground Railroad - breaking free from the chains of slavery to the north of Spanish territory. Risking all for the opportunity to live as free men and women, they established themselves in the city and throughout the county as ministers, postmasters and overall contributors to a better society.

His family's story is conveyed with deep emotion from a man who each day drives by the house where his grandparents lived. He also spends a lot of his time at Fort Mose - sacred ground in the fight for recognition and freedom for African Americans. Manned by an all black regiment, the vibrant fort one time served as the first line of defense for St. Augustine. Hankerson serves as the special events chairman for the Fort Mose Historical Society and has been instrumental in getting a museum built on the hallowed grounds just north of the Oldest City. The museum is due to open in the spring, and Hankerson says he hopes a special guest will grace the grand opening celebration.

st. johns sun: Freedom Road is a new play about Fort Mose, written by your good friend James Bullock. How do you see this play being used to further educate people about the role of the fort and its residents?

hankerson: St. Augustine has long been at the forefront of the civil rights movement. Most people associate the city with Dr. [Martin Luther] King's visit, serving as one of the catapults for the Voting Rights Act of 1964. …

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