In this week’s Lagniappe cover story, investigative reporter Ben Raines chronicles his research and work that ultimately led to the discovery of Clotilda, the last known ship to bring slaves to America. Raines’ discovery gave the residents of Africatown — the area where the slaves settled after they were freed, and where their descendants still live — a very tangible piece of their ancestral puzzle.
And though it is not a pretty part of our city’s or nation’s history, it is a very important part of it, and, as such, descendants and community leaders have plans for a museum dedicated to telling Clotilda’s story, where its remains would be displayed and perhaps even a complete replica of the ship could be constructed for visitors to experience.
Much like Montgomery’s The Legacy Museum, which is a memorial to lynching victims, and New Orleans’ The National WWII Museum, the Africatown/Clotilda museum would be a place not only for somber reflection and remembrance, but a place to showcase an important part of American history.
Considering the subject matter, it sounds rather strange to say it is a place we could be proud of as Mobilians, and perhaps “proud” is not the right word. But I do think we owe it to the world, but, more importantly, to the passengers on that ship and their descendants to tell their story in a very meaningful and moving way, and if we can do that, that is something we could indeed be proud of.
And I, for one, hope this museum comes to fruition sooner rather than later.
But this story also got me thinking about the many other historical or popular figures who were born here or called Mobile home for significant lengths of time. These individuals have excelled in everything from sports to science to music, and I don’t really think we have done enough as a city to honor their legacies either.
I really feel we have missed big opportunities from both a historical and tourism perspective by not recognizing these exceptional Mobilians:
We have probably done the best job of honoring our home-run hero, as Henry “Hank” Aaron has the downtown Loop named for him and the Minor League Baseball stadium, where his childhood home was also moved to in 2008. But with no current baseball team and the fate of Hank Aaron Stadium in question, I wonder if it’s not a better idea to relocate his childhood home and museum to Downtown, inside of the Henry Aaron Loop.
There it could be a major tourist attraction and could even be expanded upon to honor all of Mobile’s other exceptional Major League Baseball players, of which we have an absolute embarrassment of riches. Even if the stadium stays put, I think this would still be a better idea, as Aaron’s home and museum wouldn’t get lost in a retail sea of Costcos, Old Navys and Best Buys. It would be in a place where far more people would actually see it and his great legacy and Mobile’s legacy as a “baseball town” could be appreciated even more.
E.O. Wilson is an American biologist and naturalist, who is called both the “father of sociobiology” AND the “father of biodiversity.” His specialty is the study of ants. Wilson spent much of his childhood in Mobile and eventually even discovered the first colony of fire ants, which we can also claim we are the mother of, as the first ones came through the port of Mobile from South America. Ouch! And you are welcome, America!
To be the “father” of any one thing in a scientific field is pretty amazing, but being two daddies to something? Well, this guy is pretty much a rock star, and I don’t think we’ve done much to honor him in the form of museums or monuments or anything of the like — at least that I can find. Why?
Our Delta is known as “America’s Amazon” and it is the area that sparked an interest in a boy that grew up to be one of America’s (if not the world’s) most renowned scientists, yet the E.O. Wilson Biophilia Center is in Freeport, Florida. Because that makes sense.
E.O. Wilson may be the father of sociobiology and biodiversity, but Jimmy Buffett is known as the “father of trop rock.” While our waters and environment inspired Wilson to study its critters, it inspired a young Buffett to pen songs about sailors and the sea. This publication has always felt this city has really missed the sailboat, so to speak, on honoring Buffett. My business partner, Rob Holbert, even called on our leaders to rename the Causeway for him several years ago, which seemed to gain some traction, but it just didn’t happen for whatever reasons.
But considering Buffett’s insanely loyal, worldwide fan base, which routinely puts him on the Forbes’ list of highest-paid musicians, and the fact he grew up here, went to high school here and started playing in bars right here in this city, it just seems profoundly stupid not to honor him in some way as well.
Of course, all of these initiatives would take varying degrees of time, effort, real estate, organization and money. And those things are rarely in great supply — at least all at the same time. But we have such a rich history and we have produced some pretty amazing people, and it would nice to be able to tell all of these stories to the world one day — the good, the bad and even the ugliest of ugly.
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