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Construction of Alabama’s new Africatown museum begins

A permanent home for Clotilda and Africatown artifacts is one step closer to reality, thanks to an official groundbreaking ceremony Thursday in Mobile for the new Africatown Heritage House. The museum will tell the long untold story of the Clotilda, the nation’s last known slave ship, and the town created by the African survivors who once suffered aboard that ship.

“We’re happy for you to be here because this is serious stuff,” said Darron Patterson, president of the Clotilda Descendants Association. “To make sure we never, ever forget the story of those people who made this place what it is.”

A $1.3 million contract to build the approximately 5,000-square-foot museum was approved in January by the Mobile County Commission. Mobile County Commissioner Merceria Ludgood is earmarking money from her district’s capital improvement plan to cover more than half of the projected expenses.

“This is the kind of thing that we are supposed to be doing in our community,” Ludgood said. “I just feel honored to be in a position to work with all of our partners to bring this to reality.”

Mobile community breaks ground on Africatown Heritage House museum from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

The project is also being financed with $250,000 from the city of Mobile.

“We have an opportunity to unite together to tell this story so when people will come to see Africatown they will sense resiliency,” said Mobile Mayor Sandy Stimpson. “They will also understand about unity.”

The Africatown Heritage House will feature “Clotilda: the Exhibition,” curated by the History Museum of Mobile in partnership with the Alabama Historical Commission and the Africatown Advisory Council to tell the story of the final journey of the Clotilda, the settlement and history of Africatown, and the discovery of the sunken schooner in 2019 – all through a combination of interpretive text panels, documents and artifacts.

“This exhibition will be a central, physical location for locals and tourists alike to discover the details of this important history,” said History Museum Director Meg Fowler. “The exhibition will cover the story of the Clotilda and include some of the artifacts that have been recovered from the shipwreck, with a special focus on the people of the story – their individuality, their perseverance and the extraordinary community they established.”

On Nov. 10, the Alabama Power Foundation presented a grant to the History Museum of Mobile to help develop the exhibit.

“Alabama Power has been a long-standing partner with the Africatown community,” said Mobile Division Vice President Patrick Murphy. “Over the years, the company has not only provided financial support, but also provided volunteers to help with projects in the community. We look forward to continuing our partnership with Africatown through our support of the Heritage House.”

Story of the Clotilda

In 1860, two co-conspirators, Tim Meaher and Capt. William Foster, bet that they could bring African captives into the United States, although the slave trade had been outlawed for more than 50 years. Under the cover of night, the Clotilda slipped into Mobile Bay with 110 enslaved Africans, becoming the nation’s last known slave ship.

In a remarkable story of resistance and resilience, those Clotilda passengers survived enslavement and the Civil War, dreamed of returning to Africa and, ultimately, at the war’s end, established the community of Africatown near Mobile, said Fowler. Many of the Africatown residents today can trace their ancestry directly to a passenger on the Clotilda.

“The role of the History Museum of Mobile is to curate, create and, eventually, to operate the exhibition,” Fowler said. “From the beginning, two things have been very important to this project. First, anything we did had to be community-driven. We are so grateful to be working with an outstanding group of Africatown community leaders who have guided and advised us at every step of the way. Second, we are committed to an exhibition that is not only historically accurate but also is executed to the highest standards of public history and curatorial practice.”

Construction of the Africatown Heritage House is expected to be complete in July with the Clotilda exhibition to open in August.

Watch the Africatown Heritage House Groundbreaking Ceremony from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

During Black History Month, Alabama NewsCenter is celebrating the culture and contributions of those who have shaped our state and those working to elevate Alabama today. Visit AlabamaNewsCenter.com throughout the month for stories of Alabamians past and present.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)