The "Back to Angola" festival highlights an important stop in Bradenton that some escaped slaves made on their way to freedom.
Years of archeological evidence has found that they, along with Seminole Indians, formed a community called Angola near Mineral Springs Park. The community was forced to flee the Bradenton area in 1821 by American soldiers, and many survivors ended up in Red Bays, Andros Island in the Bahamas.
Festival organizer Daphney Towns said she hopes the event will bring the enduring connection between Red Bays and Bradenton to a wider audience.
"When you go to Red Bays, Andros, they welcome you and they say 'Welcome to the home of the Seminole Indians. We are Floridians,'" she said.
Trudy Williams, a historical preservationist with Reflections of Manatee, said Mineral Springs Park, located at 1312 Second Ave. E., served as a place of relative calm for slaves escaping from Georgia and other Southern states. They were likely led to the source of fresh water by the Seminoles, who integrated many free slaves into their tribes.
It is believed that up to 700 people were living in Angola when they were attacked by Andrew Jackson's troops. Williams said many of the Angola residents fled south to areas near modern day Miami.
They then boarded boats destined for the Carribean. Mineral Springs Park is currently being considered for the National Parks Service's Underground Railroad Network to Freedom, which coordinates the preservation of sites tied to the Underground Railroad.
"My goal is to bring the hidden histories out to the forefront and the underground railroad is just a fantastic story that people needed to know, and finally they do," Williams said.
The festival will will open with a celebration on July 13 from 4-8 p.m. and then runs from noon to 8 p.m. on July 14 and 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. July 15.
A delegation of descendents and Bahamian government officials are traveling to Bradenton for the festival. The event will feature Bahamian food and dance, as well as an expert panel on the Angola settlement.