A visit to the Key West African Cemetery is a heartbreaking walk into a painful chapter in American history. In 1860, some 294 freed African slaves were buried in shallow graves at what is now Higgs Beach near the southernmost point of Key West. The Africans were among 1,432 freed by the United States Navy from three slave ships bound for nearby Cuba. Because of the horrific conditions aboard the slave ships, many of the Africans were very ill and died. The graves remained unmarked until 2001.
Key West was never a slave trading port but its proximity to Cuba (only about 90 miles) and strategic location on the Florida Straits meant that slave ships passed by. As the Civil War approached, a number of slave ships were forced into port and the slaves freed. And of course , over centuries quite a few ships were wrecked in these waters. Many of them, unfortunately, had human cargo.