Submitted by Suanne Z. Thamm
Reporter – News Analyst
As its September 3, 2013 regular meeting began following an invocation given by Commissioner Pat Gass, Mayor Sarah Pelican highlighted noteworthy people and events for community recognition: proclaiming September 2013 as Middle Passage Remembrance Month; recognizing retiring Fernandina Beach Police Sergeant Walter Sturges for 36 years of dedicated service; proclaiming September 17 through September 23, 2013 as Constitution Week; and supporting the nomination of William Hunter Burbank III for a 2014 Florida Heritage Award. Information in the accounts below was taken from the official proclamations read during the FBCC meeting.
Middle Passage Remembrance
The year 2013 marks the 500th anniversary of Spanish explorer Juan Ponce de Leon’s arrival on the east coast of Florida. As part of the celebration of this event, the state has kicked off 2013 Viva Florida 500, a statewide event to recognize and acknowledge the diversity of cultures that have contributed to Florida’s heritage. The Middle Passage represents a perilous focal point of the Atlantic slave trade in which millions of people were enslaved and shipped from Africa to the New World. An estimated 15% or 2 million Africans died during transit. The Middle Passage and Port Markers Project is intended to memorialize Africans who died during the voyage to the New World.
The port of Old Town Fernandina continued as an active Middle Passage port following the 1808 United States Embargo Act, banning the importation of slaves. Slave trade here increased significantly under Spanish rule. Slaves were imported and warehoused in Old Town and then smuggled into the United States across the St. Marys River. The Old Town community is characterized by the history of its Spanish and African influences.
In presenting the proclamation Mayor Pelican encouraged all citizens to remember the lives of those who perished during the Middle Passage and explore the cultural diversity of Fernandina Beach, Amelia Island and the state of Florida during September 2013. She announced that in partnership with Fort Clinch State Park and the Amelia Island Museum of History the city will hold a special program of remembrance on September 28, 2013.
Neil Frink received the proclamation along with Thea Seagraves, Amelia Island Museum of History’s volunteer coordinator. Mr. Frink said that he was accepting the proclamation on behalf of local historian Mrs. Willie Mae Ashley, who was not able to be present. He said that he grew up in Old Town and that his family was one of the oldest families who could trace roots back to that time. He said that he feels honored that the city continues to recognize the contributions of African Americans. Thea Seagraves invited the audience to the festivities planned for September 28, 2013, from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m., which will include a theatrical presentation, food vendors, flamenco dancers and a petting zoo in addition to the official ceremony.
FBPD Sergeant Walter Sturges retires after 36 years of service
In recognition of his more than 36 years of service, Mayor Pelican expressed sincere appreciation on behalf of the city and placed a copy of the proclamation honoring Sgt. Sturges in the city’s permanent records. Sturges said that the city has treated him very well over his career and that while sometimes it seems to him that the city has gotten a bad rap, it has been an honor and privilege to serve. Sturges shook hands with all the commissioners and left to a standing ovation from the audience.
Commissioner Arlene Filkoff later remarked that she eagerly awaited publication of Sturges’ book recounting his adventures with the Police Department.
Constitution Week, September 17-23, 2013
Mayor Pelican called Marie Santry to the podium to accept this proclamation on behalf of the local chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR). Other chapter members joined her. Mayor Pelican read that September 17, 2013, marks the 226th anniversary of the drafting of the Constitution by the Constitutional Convention and called upon citizens to reaffirm the ideals of the framers of the Constitution. Ms. Santry delivered brief remarks in response informing the audience that the U.S. Constitution is the oldest such operating document in the world today. She encouraged people to study the document and remember that it cannot survive without the support of its citizens. She highlighted the efforts of the DAR to educate the public about the Constitution and asked that people resolve to become better informed and responsible citizens.
Resolution 2013-118: Endorsing William Burbank’s nomination for a 2014 Florida Folk Heritage Award
The commission unanimously passed this resolution. Florida Folk Heritage Awards are intended to honor Floridians whose lifelong skills and accomplishments in the folk arts are distinguished affirmations of the rich cultural legacy, which the citizens of Florida desire to acknowledge, celebrate and conserve.
Burbank, more commonly known as Billy Burbank, is being nominated for his leadership and legacy as part of the third generation of Burbank net makers. The Burbank family has been making shrimp trawls and fish nets in Fernandina since 1915. Billy Burbank has been instrumental in bringing attention to the First Coast shrimping industry in addition to his many innovations in net design that both enabled larger shrimp catches while insuring the safety of other marine life. He was awarded the Environmental Hero Award in 2000 by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration for his work in designing a humane and effective turtle extrusion device (TED) for the shrimping industry. He has also broadened the family tradition by creating Burbank Sports Nets.
In accepting the resolution, Burbank thanked Peggy Bulger, former Florida State Folklorist and Director of the American Folklife Center, Library of Congress. He said that the 4th generation of Burbanks continues the net making tradition. He thanked the commission for supporting his nomination.
September 9, 2013 6:50 a.m.