Africatown, Alabama

Editorial Team and Acknowledgments

Lead Editor: Renee Kemp-Rotan, studiorotan
Associate Editor: Vickii Howell, M.O.V.E. Gulf Coast CDC
Image Assistant: Tiana Howell

M.O.V.E. Gulf Coast CDC is serving as this report’s fiscal sponsor.

Renee Kemp-Rotan, Associate AIA/NOMA, is an urban designer, master planner, and the CEO of studiorotan, a cultural heritage/civic design firm. She is the first African American woman to graduate from Syracuse University with a bachelor’s degree in architecture (cum laude). She attended London’s Architectural Association and graduated from Columbia University with a master’s in urban and regional planning. Kemp-Rotan is an active member of the American Institute of Architects (AIA)’s Diversity and Inclusion Council and the National Organization of Minority Architects. She has directed the AIA’s Design, Education, Practice Division and the National Endowment for the Arts’ Design Demonstration/National Design Competition programs. Her professional work includes serving ten mayors as urban policy/designer advisor in Washington, DC, New York, and Atlanta. In Atlanta, she master planned eight communities for the 1996 Olympics and went on to serve as the city’s director of economic development and chief of urban design and development. Other projects in Atlanta include master planning for the Atlanta Aquarium and Olympic Park and serving as the construction liaison for the construction of Philips Arena. A native of Washington, DC, Kemp-Rotan now resides in Birmingham, Alabama, where she has directed planning for $200 million in capital projects for the City, including Railroad Reservation Park, Crossplex, SPARK@Sloss arts tech hub for millennials and the underserved (with the creative director of Cirque du Soliel as partner), and the Birmingham Civil Rights Heritage Trail. Her work is included in The African American National Biography (edited by Dr. Henry Louis Gates), Harvard University’s W.E.B. Du Bois Center, and Oxford University’s African American Research Center. Kemp-Rotan has brought these decades’ worth of experience in the master planning of cultural and heritage sites to her current work as the professional competition advisor for The Africatown International Design Idea Competition

Vickii Howell is a journalist, writer, PR strategist, and socially conscious community builder. She has spent many years as an advocate for social justice and economic inclusion in Birmingham and Mobile, using her writing and communication skills to inform, engage, empower, and build alliances that transform community. Her passion for community started as an award-winning journalist at The Birmingham News, Alabama’s largest newspaper at the time. After a distinguished 13-year career, Howell left The News in 2003 to create Birmingham View, which included a print magazine, a 30-minute community affairs cable TV show, a website, and social media, to highlight more positive news about Birmingham’s African American community. She also wrote for the Birmingham Civil Rights Heritage Trail, which is now part of the National Park Service’s Birmingham Civil Rights National Monument and the national Civil Rights Trail, a national initiative from the Alabama Department of Tourism. Upon returning home to Mobile in 2013, Howell joined the Mobile NAACP, becoming its executive director. As co-chair of the Mobile NAACP Economic Development Committee, she worked with the Mobile Chamber of Commerce’s Growth Alliance Task Force, working for business inclusion and jobs for minorities. She is currently the founder and president of M.O.V.E. (Making Opportunities Viable for Everyone) Gulf Coast Community Development Corporation, a nonprofit organization to build collaborative partnerships with businesses, governments, and other nonprofits to create a supportive economic development ecosystem that grows the businesses and socioeconomic capacity of entrepreneurs, workers, and families in historically underserved communities. With support from her board, Howell commissioned and worked with studiorotan to develop The Africatown International Design Idea Competition, as a means to leverage the Clotilda discovery to create such an ecosystem. The desired outcome is for the designs to help community leaders cast a common vision for Africatown’s future, using its history to form its economic base. Her hope is to create a sustainable model that other historic Black neighborhoods and communities can follow for their own revitalization efforts.

Tiana Howell is an architectural designer and holds a master’s degree in architecture from The Bernard and Anne Spitzer School of Architecture at The City College of New York.

In Gratitude

We, the Africatown editorial team, are indebted to the many individuals, organizations, descendants, supporters, and sponsors who gave their time and service to the development of this report as they dealt with the pandemic challenges of 2020. We are grateful to be associated with a community where activists still have voice and descendants still reside. Africatown, despite its blight, still stands today due to the spiritual power of the ancestors. Only those who “blow good spirit” will be enjoined to participate in this community’s resurrection and repair—for only with good spirit, can we empower community and respect the lessons of history and grow into a better future for all.


The effort to both build and expose the history of Africatown began generations ago. Thus, this report was written to further reinforce the community’s tireless pursuit of regeneration goals for Africatown. We worked hard on this project, but never alone. May the good will and good works of the believers, continue to uphold and uplift this sacred community. We thank the following organizations, colleges and universities, sponsors, and individuals for the provision of encouragement and resources in the preparation of this work.

This list of acknowledgements includes but is not limited to the following:




Competition Seed Funders for The Africatown International Design Idea Competition


  • Joe Womack, president of Africatown C.H.E.S.S., cofounder of the Africatown Heritage Preservation Foundation, whose data collection, writings, and work to preserve and protect Africatown inspired and informed this report.
  • Anderson Flen, president of the Mobile County Training School Alumni Association and cofounder of the Africatown Heritage Preservation Foundation, who is a passionate advocate for his beloved community.
  • Clotilda descendants Joycelyn Davis, Darron Patterson, and Gary Lumbers (who also contributed to the Cudjo Lewis House Blueprint project); long-time Africatown resident Ruth Ballard (who is also a co-founder of the Africatown Heritage Preservation Foundation); and native US Navy Chief Jason Lewis, who was raised in the Josephine Allen public housing community for their time and interviews.
  • Africatown elders: baseball great Cleon Jones (Miracle Mets) and his wife Angela Jones, leaders of the Africatown CDC; Robert Battles, who directed the first Africatown Welcome Center and was a longtime leader of the Africatown Community Mobilization Project, which pursued getting the Africatown Historic District added to the National Register of Historic Places; and Lorna Woods, family historian of her ancestor, Clotilda African Charlie Lewis, and keeper of Africatown’s treasured stories. 
  • Greg Cyprian of Legacy 166 whose advice and stalwart support for our projects in Africtown kept us inspired.
  • Dr. Deborah Plant, PhD, scholar, critic, and editor of Zora Neale Hurston’s heart-wrenching series of 1927 interviews with Clotilda survivor, Cudjo Lewis, that became the best-selling book, Barracoon: The Story of the Last “Black Cargo” for faithfully preserving the words of Cudjo Lewis, in his own African vernacular, and supporting this project with her public health essay introduction, “Cudjo Say I Cry.” 
  • Dr. Craig Wilkins, PhD, AIA, architect, and professor at the University of Oregon School of Architecture, for bringing his students to Africatown to photograph vacant and tax delinquent properties for community use and for making us aware of The Architectural League and its American Roundtable initiative, thus giving us the opportunity to tell a fuller story of the issues Africatown is positioning itself to overcome.
  • Ramsey Sprague, director of the Mobile Environmental Justice Action Coalition (MEJAC), for their essay on the environment and their ongoing work on current zoning and environmental issues in Africatown.
  • Nathaniel Patterson, owner of A Culture of Excellence, LLC, and a member of the Mobile Area Chamber of Commerce’s board of directors, for his essay on work and economy.
  • Kristi Lamont Ellis of Cotton & Gin Limited Private Consulting, whose editing of our initial American Roundtable essays absolutely made the difference, allowing us to submit a much more organized and readable first-draft of this report.
  • Stephen Bradberry, executive director of the Alliance Institute, who early on encouraged us to pursue The Africatown International Design Idea Competition as a promising civic design, civic engagement, and community development tool.
  • Those who answered the call of the Africatown community by speaking at civic engagement workshops sponsored by The Africatown International Design Idea Competition, including:
    • William (Bill) Bates, FAIA, 2019 past president of the American Institute of Architects,
    • Dr. Michael Blakey, PhD, chair of the department of anthropology at the College of William and Mary, co-author of The Rubric, forensic anthropologist for New York City’s African Burial Ground National Monument,
    • Dr. Natalie S. Robertson, PhD, author, whose book The Slave Ship Clotilda and the Making of Africatown: Spirit of Our Ancestors has been a guiding light for us as much as the Ancestors,
    • Dr. Kwesi Daniels, PhD, chair of the department of architecture at Tuskegee University, and
    • Wayne Coleman, head of archives at the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute.
  • Mayor Jimmie Gardner, City of Prichard, a community champion who offered us use of space at City Hall to present The Africatown International Design Idea Competition to the public and to delegates from Benin—and his work to keep alive the vision of his predecessor, former Mayor John Smith (may he rest well with the Ancestors).
  • J. Gary Cooper, retired U.S. Marine Corps Major General and co-founder of Commonwealth National Bank, who allowed us to use its board room to host our very first community engagement meeting on The Africatown International Design Idea Competition, and has supported the work of M.O.V.E. from its inception.
  • Rev. John McCampbell (now gone to his eternal rest), who opened facilities at his church, Olivet Missionary Baptist Church in Happy Hills, for us to host community meetings. 
  • Alfred (Al) Stokes and Jose Perry, staffers in the Mobile Office of former U.S. Senator Doug Jones, who hosted meetings, provided support, and other resources that advanced our work. 
  • Michael Pierce, executive director of the Mobile Housing Board, who gave us an audience to explain our proposed ideas for the Housing Board’s Josephine Allen public housing site. 
  • Theo M. Moore II, founder and executive director of Hiztorical Vision Productions for featuring Africatown and the Africatown International Design Idea Competition in his upcoming documentary film, Afrikan by Way of America: The Legacy and Future of Africatown in Alabama.
  • Rachael Hatley, whose mind for details guided a class of her design students at Spring Hill College in submitting great design concepts to help promote The Africatown International Design Idea Competition.
  • IT specialist Alan Bozeman of Code Bright Solutions and graphic artist Fred Norfleet, Jr., for the initial development of The Africatown International Design Idea Competition website.
  • George “Bodile” Balams, a multidisciplinary artist from Mobile, who permitted us to use songs about Africatown from his album, Introducing: The Black African Americana, as part of this report.
  • April Livingston, artist who crafted the Cudjoe ‘Kazoola’ Lewis bust and other artworks featured in this report.
  • Anick Santos, president of the nongovernmental organization BUDAL-GIE of Benin and her board members, who took care of Vickii and Jason Lewis during their December 2018 trip to Benin, who made introductions to the leaders of Benin’s top architectural organization, state media, and other officials, and who graciously allowed M.O.V.E. to include parts of BUDAL’s Benin House Project in the competition.
  • Simon Powney, architectural designer, Mississippi State University for his work on the Cudjo Lewis House Blueprint project.
  • Liz Smith-Incer, Mississippi Field Office director of the National Park Service’s Rivers, Trails and Conservation Assistance Program, whose steady hand as a skilled facilitator led to the development of the Africatown Connections Blueway, and who opened doors to resources for The Africatown International Design Idea Competition.
  • Kern Jackson, PhD, director, African-American Studies Program, University of South Alabama in Mobile for his thoughtful advice and encouragement from the beginning of this work.
  • Eric Finley, docent and tour guide of the Dora Franklin Finley African American Heritage Trail, who also supported our work from the beginning and has helped our efforts.
  • Ray Richardson, project manager of the City of Mobile’s EPA brownfields grant in Africtown, for including M.O.V.E. and our work with the competition as community partners in the project.
  • M.O.V.E. Gulf Coast CDC board members Amelia Bacon, Barbara Martin, and Shirley Jones Mingo (in loving memory), who all brought their skills, contacts, resources, and encouragement to support Vickii Howell’s trip to Benin and the community-wide concepts of The Africatown International Design Idea Competition.