Darron Patterson can only imagine what it was like aboard the last known slave ship to the U.S. as it made its way to Mobile.
He can picture in his mind’s eye the trip for the 110 enslaved Africans chained together in a small, 5-by-23-by-27-foot hold and he doesn’t want the world to forget about them or the place where they settled after slavery was ended.
“I don’t want people to forget the story of 110,” Patterson said.
A short-subject documentary called “Surviving Clotilda” should go a long way in ensuring folks don’t forget about the people who would eventually make up the population of the Africatown area of Mobile. Patterson, president of the Clotilda Descendants Association, was invited to the premiere of the film produced by students at the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) in Georgia and paid for by the city of Mobile.
“They were the stars of the show,” Patterson said of the people who descendants refer to simply as the 110. “I’m just proud to be a part of it. The descendants are excited about what’s happening.”
What’s happening is a renewed focus on the history of Africatown that began with the discovery of the wreckage of Clotilda off Twelvemile Island in the Mobile River by journalist Ben Raines. This focus on history has city officials preparing for increased cultural tourism in the area, prompting leaders to invest in future experiences based on that history.
The city of Mobile gave SCAD and Visit Mobile a $180,000 performance contract to make the documentary and produce an “immersive experience” based on the story of the 110 and Clotilda.
The performance contract breaks down as follows: $75,000 was devoted to the film, $52,000 will go to wayfinding and signage related to the experience and another $52,000 will help develop concepts related to the experience.
For the film, Patterson said SCAD students came to Mobile to interview descendants about the story they’d heard all of their lives.
“They did a lot of listening to descendants,” he said. “They captured the essence of what this story is.”
During the last week of October, Patterson and other descendants went to Savannah, Ga., along with Visit Mobile President and CEO David Clark to watch the 24-minute documentary and participate in a panel discussion on it. The panel discussion included Patterson, Visit Mobile’s Emily Gonzalez, Jennifer Hyde from SCAD and Rachel Thomas, the film’s narrator.
“SCAD pulled out the red carpet for its partners,” Clark said. “A lot of work went into this and I’m proud of all of Mobile and Africatown for coming together. I’m grateful to the city for giving us the resources to do it and I’m grateful for the Africatown leadership who drove this process.”
The film will be presented to visitors in Mobile at the beginning of a land and water tour that promises to get near where the Clotilda wreckage was found, Clark said. The film will be shown to visitors at GulfQuest National Maritime Museum of the Gulf of Mexico before they board a boat and are told the history of the ship and the 110 survivors while on the water.
The tour will coincide with the opening of the county’s Heritage House Museum, which is slated for March, Clark said.
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