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Africatown Heritage House Sculpture Dedicated; Opening Date Announced

Posted on: Feb 3rd, 2023 | News and AnnouncementsPress Releasesfeatured news


MOBILE COUNTY, Ala. – “The Memory Keeper” sculpture in the Africatown Heritage House Memorial Garden was dedicated in a ceremony on Friday, Feb. 3, 2023.

Artists Charles Smith, who works in clay, and Frank Ledbetter, who works in metal, collaborated to create the stainless steel sculpture, which is 9 feet tall, 1-foot-4-inches deep and 2-foot-8-inches wide.  It features many marine animals that are common to both Alabama and West Africa. The artists used shapes and symbols in The Memory Keeper purposefully to represent the past, present and future of Africatown as it shares the story of the 110 enslaved West Africans and their descendants. Some elements of the sculpture appear gold in sunlight because of heat-related techniques used in its craftsmanship. Read more about the sculpture and artists at


At the event, the History Museum of Mobile announced the opening date for Clotilda: The Exhibition at Africatown Heritage House – July 8, 2023 – which coincides with the Clotilda Descendants Association’s planned Landing Day activities.


”Dedicating The Memory Keeper sculpture today means that we’re one step closer to the opening of Africatown Heritage House and Clotilda: The Exhibition. I commend the artists for their skillful work in capturing the story of Africatown through the forms and symbols of origin, family, survival and resilience they chose to tell the important story of this community,” said Commissioner Merceria Ludgood, who represents Mobile County Commission District 1. 


“We were inspired by plaques that hung in the Benin King’s palace hundreds of years ago to show how the story of Africatown is more than the ship, Clotilda; it begins centuries ago and will continue far the into the future,” said Smith.  “He brought the story, educated me and together we built The Memory Keeper to share the incredible story of what the 110 went through,” said Ledbetter. The artists expressed the hope that, by spending time with The Memory Keeper, viewers will bring their own interpretations and be inspired to learn more.  


District 1 Commissioner Merceria Ludgood presided over the dedication that greatly involved the community. It opened with a Drum Call from the Mobile Alabama Africatown Drummers, followed by the invocation from Rev. Derek Tucker, Pastor of Union Missionary Baptist Church; libation to elders by Deborah Ferguson and musical medley by Theodore Arthur. The artists spoke about their collaboration and the art piece. The sculpture was unveiled and then Jeremy Ellis, president of the Clotilda Descendants Association provided a community response. The ceremony concluded with a dedicatory prayer and benediction by Rev. Christopher Williams, Pastor of Yorktown Missionary Baptist Church, followed by a bell ringing by the Mobile County Training School Alumni Association.

We are here today to recognize this significant milestone with the dedication of the sculpture, The Memory Keeper, as a part of the Africatown Heritage House. We honor this dedication and the accomplishments of the artists Charles Smith and Frank Ledbetter,” said Jeremy Ellis, president of the Clotilda Descendants Association. “The Memory Keeper will remind us of the 110 survivors of Clotilda and their strength, courage, resilience, and perseverance. This is a historic moment that descendants of the 110 survivors and the Africatown community should be proud of,” he added. 

The ceremony also included brief comments from Africatown Heritage House collaborators: Clara Nobles, Deputy Director, Alabama Historical Commission; Jill Stork, Area Manager for Alabama Power who represented the Alabama Power Foundation; Representative Adline Clarke, House District 97; Mobile Mayor Sandy Stimpson; City of Mobile District 2 Councilmember William Carroll and Dr. Meg Fowler, Director, History Museum of Mobile.

In her remarks, Fowler explained that the History Museum of Mobile was in the process of building Clotilda: The Exhibition at the Africatown Heritage House and establishing operations for the inaugural exhibit. She said that History Museum of Mobile would offer timed admission tickets with advance ticket sales available online in early summer. 

“The exhibition has been curated by the History Museum of Mobile in collaboration with Africatown community members, with the local and national descendant community, and with subject matter experts around the world. There is, at every point, a clear focus on the people of the story,” Fowler said. “Like the memorial garden and sculpture outside, the exhibition inside will be a place to reflect, to remember, and for visitors to move forward into the future, changed by the stories they have learned there.”

The Memory Keeper is an outdoor public art piece in the Memorial Garden of the Africatown Heritage House, located at 2465 Winbush Street • Mobile, AL 36610. The Africatown Heritage House itself, will not be open to the public until Clotilda: The Exhibition debuts in July 2023.



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