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Africatown Heritage House Opens With Much Fanfare

Posted on: Aug 4th, 2023 | News and Announcements

 

MOBILE COUNTY, Ala.  – Clotilda: The Exhibition at Africatown Heritage House launched through a series of events and activities surrounding its opening day, July 8, 2023, which was 163 years to the day that the 110 enslaved men, women and children were offloaded into the Mobile River Delta.

Though a unique and difficult history, the atmosphere at each of the launch activities was filled with pride, joy and celebration as the long-awaited asset, Africatown Heritage House, opened to the public, allowing the story of the 110 and the community they founded to be shared with the world.

Africatown Heritage House was built by Mobile County Commission, as a project spearheaded by District 1 Commissioner Merceria Ludgood, with financial assistance from the City of Mobile and partnerships with the History Museum of Mobile, Alabama Historical Commission, Visit Mobile, Mobile County Public Schools, Alabama Power Foundation and others including the Clotilda Descendants Association and local community groups.

Clotilda: The Exhibition at Africatown Heritage House is now open Tuesdays through Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Visitors are strongly encouraged to reserve their timed tickets online at www.clotilda.com to ensure no waiting for entry. Admission is free for Mobile County residents, simply click to indicate your residency status and no charge appears at checkout. Tour group sales will begin later this summer with the first tour group availabilities in early fall. There is also much information for media on the website: press kit, media visit policy and visit request form.

“The Mobile County Commission is pleased to have constructed the first new infrastructure and to have facilitated Clotilda: The Exhibition with our partners to help meet the growing worldwide interest in Africatown. Strong collaboration was needed and we thank the many organizations and people who helped or otherwise participated. It is important to note that launching Clotilda: The Exhibition at Africatown Heritage House is not an end point; this  is the beginning of sharing the unique history of this community and the remarkable people who founded it,” said Mobile County Commissioner Merceria Ludgood.

 

The numbers are in on the 10 distinct opening activities, which began July 6 and culminated with Africatown Community Day on July 8.

Thursday, July 6:

Clotilda Descendants Association organized a descendants’ preview of the exhibition and almost 200 of their number signed up for private appointments that day to see the exhibit sharing their family’s story.

Later that evening, History Museum of Mobile hosted an opening reception for the exhibit with more than 225 people in attendance, including descendants, representatives of collaborating organizations, elected officials and other dignitaries, and other invitees. In a very brief but inspiring program, attendees heard from Dr. Meg McCrummen Fowler, Director of the History Museum of Mobile; descendant Vernetta Henson, a great-great-granddaughter of Pollee and Rose Allen; Jeremy Ellis, president of Clotilda Descendants Association; and Jessica Fairley, Manager of the Africatown Heritage House.

Speakers honored the history and efforts culminating in the launch of Clotilda: The Exhibition at Africatown Heritage House. Fairley challenged the audience to do their part “for a time such as this” and help the Africatown story to be shared and help the community benefit.

Friday, July 7:

Friday was a full day of activities beginning with a dignitaries’ preview of the exhibit. About 50 elected officials, appointed state officials, representatives of the various organizations’ boards of directors and other invited guests toured the exhibit.

Next, more than 200 people attended the building dedication ceremony at 9 a.m., presided over by Commissioner Merceria Ludgood. The hour-long event featuring speakers and a West African-style performance occurred outdoors near The Memory Keeper sculpture in the Memorial Garden at Africatown Heritage House.

The following representatives spoke briefly on behalf of their respective organizations: Alabama Historical Commission Board Member Pat Edington, Alabama State Representative Adline Clarke, Mobile County Commission President Connie Hudson, Mobile Mayor Sandy Stimpson, City of Mobile District 2 Councilor William Carroll, Clotilda Descendants Association Vice President Altevese Rosario, and History Museum of Mobile Director Dr. Meg McCrummen Fowler. All speakers lauded Commissioner Ludgood and Mobile County’s efforts as well as the positive impact of the multi-agency collaboration that enabled the creation and launch of Clotilda: The Exhibition at Africatown Heritage House.

Fowler reminded guests that “163 years ago is but a moment ago. Exhibits like this collapse space and time to bring us face-to-face with the past and this story reminds us that the past is very much present.”  Rosario said, “Many of you are great listeners who’ve come alongside the descendants and residents to champion our story. It is significant, valuable, inspiring and worth the world knowing the 110.”

Good wishes and blessings were included at various parts of the program by Rev. Derek L. Tucker of Union Missionary Baptist Church (Opening Prayer), Rev. Christopher Williams of Yorktown Missionary Baptist Church (Dedication Prayer) and Fr. Victor Ingalls of Mother of Mercy Catholic Church (Closing Prayer).

The building dedication concluded with Jessica Fairley, Manager of Africatown Heritage House, introducing a performance by the African Cultural Alliance of Egbe Oya in reverence to the ancestors. This was a lively 20-minute Egungun performance featuring a drum call, poem, libations, call and response songs, masquerade, and closing affirmation. The performance group included attendees in their celebration by distributing white carnations through the crowd.

Immediately after the building dedication, media previews of the exhibit began. More than 35 credentialed media representing local, regional and national media outlets toured the exhibit between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. Also during that time, Commissioner Ludgood, descendants, project partners, scientists, divers, exhibit curators, etc. were available to media in attendance for interviews. 

Later that afternoon, Alabama Historical Commission led a media boat tour to the site of the Clotilda. In the two-hour boat ride to/from the site, about 20 media representatives learned from experts who participated in the ship’s verification: Jim Delgado, who led the archaeological work to conduct the surveys, scientific archaeological excavation and documentation that conclusively identified the Clotilda, as well as from State Archaeologist Stacye Hathorn, the project manager and lead scientist on the investigation and from Kamau Sadiki, a certified Professional Association of Dive Instructors Divemaster whose dives included the search and underwater documentation of five Transatlantic Era of African Enslavement shipwrecks. He was a member of the archaeology field team that confirmed the location of the shipwreck Clotilda.

Also on Friday afternoon, more than 100 people who received invitations to pre-view the exhibit as residents and family members of the Africatown community participated in a neighborhood preview of Clotilda: The Exhibition at Africatown Heritage House.

Saturday, July 8: 

Early in the morning, Clotilda Descendants Association held its Landing Day ceremony that included wreath releases into Mobile River at the Africatown bridge and allowed descendants to pay homage to their ancestors on the 163rd anniversary of their arrival in the U.S. The Clotilda Descendants Association also sponsored a series of guided boat tours to the site for their members throughout the day.  About 200 of their number participated in the Landing Day ceremony and more than 175 took boat tours, led by Ben Raines, to the site in remembrance of the 110’s landing on July 8, 1860.

Clotilda: The Exhibition at Africatown Heritage House opened its doors to the public promptly at 10 a.m. on Saturday, July 8. Commissioner Merceria Ludgood and Museum Director Meg McCrummen Fowler cut a red ribbon and advance-sales ticket holders began entering the exhibit at their designated times. Opening day tickets sold out weeks before the opening and 380 ticketholders were able to experience the exhibit on its first day.

Mobile County’s Africatown Community Day took place between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. on Saturday, July 8. More than 2,500 people attended the event on the lawn of the Robert L. Hope Community Center. The event featured four hours of free entertainment, activities like face painting, bounce houses, food trucks, vendors and more. Emceed by D.J. Dirty Dan, the day’s entertainment featured song, dance and spoken word performances, the latter curated by descendant and Mobile County Public Affairs intern Tiffany Pogue. Prior to performances beginning, local artist Ty Tovar presented Commissioner Merceria Ludgood with an original artwork entitled “Community” in celebration of Africatown Community Day and the launch of Clotilda: The Exhibition at Africatown Heritage House.

Musical entertainment included: Mobile Alabama Africatown Drummers, the African Cultural Alliance of Egbe Oya, Voices of Africatown Choir (featuring members from each of the three historic Africatown churches), Vigor Band, Symone French, ancienthangs, Ted Keeby and the MoJazz band.

Spoken word performers included: Huggybear da Poet, Delores Gibson, Sara Fair, QueenBlack the Poetess, Ebony da Goddess, Emma Davis, Nikol Day, Cassandra Hansberry, Junya Goddbod, Cynthia Poe, Stacy Davis, Sharon Davis, Queen Kisha, and Hyrum Ether. 

The African Cultural Alliance of Egbe Oya also showed a film and conducted two workshops in the Robert L. Hope Community Center: Afro-fusion dance and song, and African ancestral connections.

The hashtag #UnityInCommunity popped up in posts on social media throughout the day, essentially summing up the Africatown Community Day’s prevailing welcoming, positive, prideful and celebratory atmosphere.  

Between July 5 and July 9, roughly 400 news stories were published in the U.S. about the launch of Clotilda: The Exhibition at Africatown Heritage House, examples are below.

SOME NATIONAL/REGIONAL NEWS STORIES:

SOME LOCAL NEWS STORIES:

In July 2023, 570 news stories were published related to the launch of Clotilda: The Exhibition at Africatown Heritage House, according to a MuckRack report. Exhibit attendance has been steady with more than 2,500 visitors to the exhibit between July 8 and 31, 2023. Saturdays are the busiest days and advanced reservation of timed tickets is strongly encouraged.

PHOTO CREDITS: Visit Mobile all photos except Vigor Band (Molly Harrell) and stage (Sharee Broussard)

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