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Arcadia Mill to host Hush Arbor event Saturday

Adrianne Walker
West Florida Historic Trust
Chairs are set up under a huge heritage oak at Arcadia Mill in Milton, where the 2019 Hush Arbor event was held.

African-American culture during the antebellum period will be on display Saturday at Arcadia Mill at a public event called “Admiring the Hush Arbor: Inspiring Community Voices.”

The hush arbor program for 2022 marks the third time around at the homestead of the Arcadia Mill Archaeological Site.

“Yes, we are bringing back our hush arbor program,” said Adrianne Walker, Arcadia site manager.

“We first hosted this program in 2018 and followed it up in 2019, but with everything happening in the world it’s been on pause until now.”

This time, co-presenters from Arcadia Mill and the Florida Public Archaeology Network received grant funds from Florida Humanities, with additional funds from the National Endowment for the Humanities.

This financial support is allowing organizers to beef up the program with a dynamic speaker and performers from out of town.

“Because we have the dance funds, we’re bringing in the Ayoka Afrikan Drum and Dance group to do an artistic kind of demonstration and expression for this program,” Walker said.

This group, from Tallahassee, may be familiar to the local community as it performed last summer during Florida’s Territorial Bicentennial Celebration in downtown Pensacola.

Their keynote speaker for this event is also coming over from Tallahassee.

“Dr. Nzinga Metzger is with Florida A&M University. We actually stumbled on her on a YouTube video talking about Hush Arbors,” Walker explained. “So, we kind of filed her name away as somebody to reach out to. And, thankfully, she was happy to participate.”

“I specialize in ritual, religion diaspora, identity, things along that stream,” said Dr. Metzger, describing herself as a folkloric artist, with a master’s in history and a PhD in cultural anthropology.

She says her work started in Philadelphia, where she studied African-Americans who were practitioners of African-based religion.

“My research took me throughout the Caribbean, and then it took me to Africa and Nigeria to Yorubaland.

Nzinga Metzger.jpg
Photo courtesy of the DuniaFore Foundation
Dr. Nzinga Metzger, an associate professor at Florida A & M University with a PhD in cultural anthropology, will talk about African-American culture and traditions during the antebellum period.

And, then, obviously, I spent time in African-based religious communities on the east coast of the United States,” Metzger began.

“So, I’m interested in the movement of tradition, evolution of tradition, maintenance of tradition, how traditions change over time.”

That brings us an explanation of what a hush arbor — or hush harbor — is.

“A hush harbor in the African-American religious tradition or traditions is basically a place where enslaved people would go in order to be able to enact and participate in their spiritual practices that included a mixture of African and African-American traditions and Christianity at a later period,” she said.

For the enslaved to worship as they wished, Metzger noted that it was important for these Hush Arbors to be held in secret, outside the purview of their slave owners. Often, that meant holding them in wooded areas around plantations.

“So, they could kind of go into these small enclaves in nearby forests for worship,” she said.

“But, sometimes in places where enslaved people could not get away, they literally would create these enclosed places inside the slave cabin where they could hang wet blankets that would prevent the noise or the sound of their worship practices from going out.”

In short, Hush Arbors provided enslaved people the opportunity to practice their traditions. But, more importantly, Metzger says it gave them a sense of control over their own lives as human beings.

“These are spaces in which enslaved people could enact a level of agency and freedom, internal freedom, spiritual freedom, psychological freedom. And, it was the renewal and the edification in these spaces that allowed them to have hope, to be able to continue to live, to have children, to persist.”

Metzger will be the first to speak at the “Admiring the Hush Arbor” program on Saturday, which begins at 4:30 p.m. Also scheduled to make a presentation is Casimer Rosiecki, from Gulf Islands National Seashore. He’ll discuss his efforts to place some Pensacola area landmarks in the Underground Railroad Network to Freedom program.

Organizer Adrianne Walker adds that an important and impactful part of the program is the location chosen for the event.

“Having it at Arcadia at the homestead, under a heritage live oak that’s is a witness tree that literally witnessed enslaved people on this property, I think that really adds to the power of the information we’re sharing.”

The Arcadia Homestead is located at 4755 Anna Simpson Road in Milton.