Artifacts from the Clotilda, which are preserved in water to prevent further decay, are on display at the Africatown Heritage House. (Arthur L. Mack/Call News)
By ARTHUR L. MACK
A longtime Africatown dream became reality Friday as dignitaries and descendants of slaves brought to Mobile on board the Clotilda gathered for the dedication of the Africatown Heritage House.
The Heritage House, which officially opens Saturday, contains artifacts from the Clotilda, the ship that brought 110 Africans from the west African country of Benin to the shores of Mobile
in defiance of laws outlawing the slave trade. The ship, commanded by Capt. William Foster, was burned after the slaves were removed to hide evidence of the crime and was not discovered until 2019.
The exhibits showing the Africatown settlement and stories from the descendants of the slaves who settled in Africatown — “Clotilda: The Exhibition” — will open at 10 a.m. Saturday for those with timed tickets.
“This is the first piece of the puzzle,” said Mobile County Commissioner Merceria Ludgood, who helped spearhead the establishment of the facility. “There is still a lot of work to do and what I’m hoping is that people will see this event and the things that we’re doing here and see an opportunity to partner in this work.
“We still have a good bit of revitalization in this community that we need to do. We need to attract investors, we need to revitalize this community from the inside out. That means infrastructure, housing and I’m looking forward to that. The people of Africatown need to know they’re valued, not just for the story but because of who they are, and by rebuilding the community it’s the best way to send that message.”
The Heritage House will open 163 years to the day that 110 men, women and children arrived in Mobile on the Clotilda, according to History Museum of Mobile director Dr. Meg Fowler.
“In the grand scheme in the history of the world and in the tens of thousands of years of human history, 163 years is nothing … it’s a moment ago,” she said. “We’re not far removed from the history and the lives of these 110 are not remote. They are present in the descendants.”
One descendant, Altevese Rosario, the vice president of the Clotilda Descendants Association, said the reasons for the museum gave her pause but she is happy the story of her ancestors is told with such a powerful exhibit.
“I stand here today with a great sense of pride and humility, as so many of you have become known about the story,” she said. “It is significant, it is valuable, it is inspiring and it is worth the world knowing.”
Another descendant, Bill Green, said the museum is incredible.
“I took a tour on yesterday and the contents of it you would not believe,” he said. “Hopefully this will be just the beginning. Hopefully this will be a focal point of Mobile and especially Africatown. It is world-class and I believe people will do themselves a great favor by coming and visiting here.”