Officials from the city, county and state gathered Thursday to break ground on a future facility that will house an exhibit telling the story of Africatown and the last ship carrying enslaved Africans to the U.S.
With a groundbreaking ceremony taking place at the Robert Hope Recreation Center, construction can begin on the planned 5,000 square foot Heritage House museum that is set to house an exhibit telling the story of the schooner Clotilda and the community that sprung up from those 110 souls captive upon it.
“Those people were very special,” Clotilda Descendents Association President Darron Patterson said. “There were special people in Africatown when they got here. Let’s not forget that. Africatown is a special place and this is serious stuff to make sure we never forget those people who made this such a special place.”
Mobile County Commissioner Connie Hudson praised her collegue District 1 Commissioner Merceria Ludgood on bringing the museum to fruition. While The Heritage House will tell the story of Africatown, Hudson said, a major focal point of the project will be on the Clotilda.
“The story of the Clotilda is truly unique and it’s one that deserves recognition … , Hudson said. “It’s a story of people who were kidnapped and taken from their homes. It’s a story of struggle, of persistence and survival in an atmosphere and culture of bondage and oppression, and it’s also a story of community, family, love and home and finally a story of respect, remembrance and now, revitalization.”
Mobile Mayor Sandy Stimpson also credited Ludgood with leading the effort, at least among the elected officials present at the ceremony. Stimpson said The Heritage House and the history of Africatown and the Clotilda would help bring millions of tourists from around the world to the city and to the community.
“This groundbreaking gets us a step closer to bringing those people to our doorstep,” he said. “My prayers for The Heritage House is it becomes a space of history, hope and healing.”
Before leaving the podium, Stimpson said the city would “use every influence we have” to make sure the project is done right.
The Heritage House exhibit will be curated and eventually run by the Mobile History Museum. Meg Fowler, Mobile History Museum executive director, said she hopes the space can make the world a better place.
“As I prepare to bring a child into the world in just a few weeks, I’ve been thinking a lot about the kind of world I want the child to grow up in,” she said. “My hope is it is a more just, equitable and beautiful world and as a historian, I believe part of that path forward is reckoning with our past; owning it openly, honestly and as students of history we know history is never really past. It lives with us, shaping the world in ways that we see sometimes and sometimes in ways we don’t.
“This is a story that is part of history that is still very much with us; with the people in this room, in this town, this county, this state and this country,” she added. “So, what an honor it is that you have entrusted the History Museum with helping to tell the Africatown story.”
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