Black History Month: Meet Juan Garrido
February 4, 2021
Editor's note: I've long felt that there's a tremendous lack in our educational system about the contributions of African Americans to the development of the United States. Knowing that former Puget Island resident Theron Hobbs, Jr., has written on the topic, I invited him to provide four columns for our weekly publications in February, which is observed as Black History Month. Here is his first column.
Juan Garrido: A Great Explorer and Farmer
By Theron Hobbs, Jr. ©2021
When many Americans think of Black History Month, they tend to see the narrative of Black people in the United States starting with slavery. The United States' education system creates a belief that the first persons of African descent came to American soil in bondage during 1619. However, history paints a different picture.
Juan Garrido was born around the 1480’s in the western portion of the continent of Africa. Garrido is noted as being a conquistador during the early 1500’s. Merriam-Webster.com defines a conquistador as “a leader in the Spanish conquest of America and especially of Mexico and Peru.” There are varying opinions on how Garrido, as an African, became a prominent person in the Spanish expedition. Regardless of varying opinions, what is clear is that he was a free person of significance in the voyage to the continent of North America.
In 1511, Juan Garrido along with Spanish explorer Juan Ponce de Leon and others ventured to what is currently known as Florida. Since these conquistadors were not in a position to overpower the native inhabitants of the Florida area, Garrido and others left with plans to return to conquer it later. They returned to Florida in 1522 but were unable to overpower the natives.
During 1522, while living in Mexico, Garrido cultivated the property he owned and became the first person to successfully harvest wheat in the Americas. Many people probably know that wheat is among one of the highest field crops planted in the United States. Yet, very few people in the United States know that the person to credit for this agricultural ability in North America is a person of African descent who wasn’t a slave.
Juan Garrido as a free Black man appears currently worthy of the mantle of being the first known documented person of African descent to be on American soil, in lieu of the 20 plus Africans brought to Jamestown, Virginia, in 1619 as slaves. Ivan Van Sertima, author of the book “They Came Before Columbus: The African Presence in Ancient America,” provides more research on how seeing the first dwellers of African descendants in the Americas only through the lenses of chattel slavery is erroneous.
Persons such as Juan Garrido demonstrate that Black history is American history, and the United States education would be enriched by more teachings on the contributions of Black people. Always remember, 28 days every February will never be enough time to cover the vast number of persons and ways that beautiful people of African descent have been a blessing to the fabric of America.
Happy Black History Month!
Theron Hobbs Jr. is a Christian minister and humanitarian. He is happily married to his lovely wife Danielle, and thankful to be a father to his son Theron III. Hobbs has a Bachelor's in Communication, Sports Broadcasting Certificate, Pastoral Ministry Certificate, and Master's in Pastoral Ministry. Wahkiakum County is no stranger to Hobbs, because the people of Cathlamet and the county developed a special place in his heart through his service as pastor of Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church from 2013-2017. His passions include Christian discipleship and apologetics, gospel-reflecting ethnic reconciliation and justice, provoking thought, and sports. He and his family live in Des Moines, Iowa, where he is a community school coordinator.