A NINETEENTH-CENTURY AFRICAN AMERICAN SETTLEMENT
EVERY PLACE HAS A STORY, BUT FEW PLACES SHARE AFRICATOWN’S STORY
Many of Africatown’s challenges mirror those of other underserved or rural areas in America—highways that separate; redlines that discriminate; infrastructure that crumbles; toxic waste that pollutes; poor education and training; jobs without pipelines. But Africatown’s history is an embarrassment of riches. And with the recent discovery of the last slave ship, Clotilda—soon, this descendant community will dig deep to extract real treasures from its own buried history; and then reap the rewards from long labor—at last.
AFRICATOWN IS A POWERFUL COLLISION OF CULTURE, HERITAGE, AND COMMUNITY MEMORY, WITH DEEP ROOTS IN THE INTERNATIONAL ATLANTIC SLAVE TRADE.
We shall never forget 1865—the end of the American Civil War and the beginning of Africatown.
As archaeologist Neil Norman writes in the National Register of Historic Places nomination report about Africatown’s founders: “these individuals are outstanding by virtue of the fact that they 1) represent some of the few Africans in the Diaspora that can be traced through their autobiographies to the places of their birth, 2) they were involved in the last documented act of the trans-Atlantic slave trade, 3) they forged a settlement and community that presents researchers with the extraordinarily rare opportunity of exploring continuity and change in African lifeways in the New World . . .”1See source.
Africatown is the only settlement built by emancipated Africans in America, a settlement where many of the Clotilda descendants still reside today. With the discovery of the Clotilda, how do we leverage Africatown’s history to create a world-class destination worthy of long overdue community revitalization?
TIMING IS EVERYTHING.
One hundred and ten Africans are illegally trafficked from the barracoons2Barracks used by slave traders in West Africa to hold enslaved Africans before transport to the Americas. of Benin, West Africa, and enter the United States through Mobile Bay, Alabama, aboard the last slave ship to America, Clotilda.
Thirty-two emancipated Clotilda Africans plan, organize, and buy land from their former slave masters to build their own town—African Town—at the Civil War’s end. Africatown founders leave their naturalization, census, and voting records as blueprints for future community survival.
Discovered in the Mobile River delta, Clotilda is recognized as one of the greatest archaeological assets the world has recently seen. Global voices justifiably cry “Save the Ship,” but decades of industrial encroachment and intentional neglect have left the nineteenth-century historic settlement of Clotilda descendants in a shameful state of repair.
We must leverage the Clotilda’s discovery to reinvest in and transform Africatown, a once self-sufficient African community in America’s Deep South, by engaging active grassroots organizations: the Africatown Heritage Preservation Foundation; Africatown~C.H.E.S.S.; Africatown Community Development Corporation; Clotilda Descendants Association; Legacy 166; Mobile Environmental Justice Action Coalition; Mobile County Training School Alumni Association; and M.O.V.E. Gulf Coast Community Development Corporation.