By JEFFARAH GIBSON
Tribune Features Writer
BAHAMIAN Dr Rita Pratt is being hailed as a living legend for her vast knowledge on the US/Bahamas Underground Railroad.
Dr Pratt has been doing cultural research in the Bahamas for more than 30 years and founded the African Bahamian Museum and Research Centre, located off Kemp Road.
She was recently invited to the Florida International University to share with students about the intriguing stories surrounding the Bahamian connection to the Underground Railroad, a network of secret routes and safe houses established during the early to mid-19th century, and used by African-American slaves to escape into free states and Canada with the aid of abolitionists and allies.
Her invitation to present came after Dr Phyllis Baker, Professor of Sociology at FIU, was introduced to Dr Pratt’s museum by Dr Carole Boyce-Davies, Professor of Africana Studies and English at the prestigious Cornell University in New York.
Due to the extensive knowledge and collection of African diasporic materials, objects and information that was found at the Bahamian museum, Dr Baker invited Dr Pratt to give a lecture to the students.
The highlight of the lecture was the US/Bahamas Underground Railroad Freedom studies and its link to the struggle of the US-Creole slaves who took a stand against enslavement in order to attain their freedom on the Bahamas seas and in the city of Nassau.
Some of the information Dr Pratt shared detailed how black and white Bahamians played a pivotal role in freeing some 135 US-Creole slaves in 1841.
“The Bahamas is known as the land of heritage freedom because of so many stories connected to freedom in the Bahamas. The students learned about how the Bahamian people helped in the liberation of the Creole ship slaves and how they cared for the slaves by providing shelter, food and clothing while they were in Nassau,” said Dr Pratt.
“Bahamian hospitality was shown in the Bahamas during 1841. The Bahamian people are known for extending excellent hospitality towards visitors who visit the Bahamas. The young Bahamian people of today should give the same hospitality to visitors that their ancestors gave.”
Throughout the lecture, Dr Pratt engaged students who posed questioned concerning the Bahamas’ seeming lack of interest in highlighting the stories of the US-Creole slave ship among others.
“A lot of the students had visited the Bahamas and hadn’t heard of these heritage stories that connect the Bahamas to America. They were concerned about this. Also, many of the students were interested in visiting the sites that were connected to America in the Bahamas,” she said.
After her presentation, Dr Pratt was recognised as a living legend of the US/Bahamas Underground Railroad studies and research by the university.
“I feel proud to be a Bahamian and to be named a ‘living legend’ by the Florida International University. What I have done is to promote the Bahamian cultural heritage abroad. The Bahamian people should take their heritage and culture to the world, and then the world will come to us and boost tourism,” she said.
“The title ‘living legend’ is very significant to me because it would let people know of my extended depth and passion for history and research of the Bahamas and the US, and help in the preservation of the Underground Railroad stories that must be shared and passed on to all generations, and especially to show the Bahamian/US historical connection. Such historical cultural programmes can bring about economic development for both countries,” she said.
Dr Pratt is a graduate of Bethune-Cookman University and completed graduate programmes at Nova University and the University of Miami. She is the founder and director of the African Bahamian Museum and Research Centre and the founder of the US/Bahamas Underground Railroad Project.