On the Africatown Heritage Home in Cellular, Alabama, a brand new exhibition tells contemporary tales in regards to the African American expertise.
In the summertime of 1860, America’s final identified slave ship smuggled 110 West African captives into Alabama, 52 years after the US outlawed the importation of enslaved folks.
After unloading passengers alongside the Cellular River, the sailors burned and sank the ship, known as Clotilda, to erase proof of the unlawful act.
This summer season, 4 years after archaeologists recognized the ship’s water-logged stays, the Africatown Heritage Home in Cellular unshackles the survivors’ tales in Clotilda: The Exhibition. The 2500-sq-ft show will look at a chilling chapter of American historical past whereas celebrating Africatown, a resilient Alabama group established by Clotilda’s passengers within the wake of the Civil Battle.
“I need Africatown Heritage Home to be the Plymouth Rock for Black folks,” mentioned Jessica Fairley, the power’s supervisor, in a press release. “I need folks from all around the world to have the ability to come right here, place their fingers on the glass (which is able to encase remnants of the Clotilda) and join with their ancestors.”
1000’s of ships took half within the transatlantic slave commerce between 1600 and 1860, forcing over 388,000 Africans into bondage on the US mainland. Nonetheless, few slave wrecks have been uncovered, and African American ancestry is commonly shrouded in thriller. Collectively, remnants of Clotilda and tales from Africatown will assist guests fill in some lacking items.
From Clotilda to Africatown
Clotilda’s story begins with Timothy Meaher, a Cellular landowner and businessman who wager he might convey human cargo into Cellular Bay with out getting caught by authorities. The ship he financed was helmed by William Foster, who sailed to present-day Benin, West Africa, and bought 110 males, ladies and kids for $9000 in gold – a small fraction of what Meaher would recoup upon promoting the captives in America. (Meaher and Foster had been by no means punished for his or her crimes.)
“All of us lonesome for our residence,” recalled Cudjo Lewis, a Clotilda sufferer who recounted the ship’s journey to writer Zora Neale Hurston in 1927. (Hurston recorded Lewis in his genuine dialect.) “We doan know whut goin’ change into of us, we doan need to be put other than one’ nother.” Barracoon: The Story of the Final “Black Cargo” by Hurston was posthumously revealed in 2018.
After a treacherous six-week Atlantic crossing, some captives stayed in Cellular, enslaved by the Meaher household, whereas others had been bought to close by Alabama plantations.
When slavery was abolished in 1865, the Clotilda survivors dreamed of returning to Africa however lacked the means to get there. As a substitute, the group pooled cash to buy small plots of land north of Cellular and created Africatown, an impartial group the place they maintained their African identities. A lot of their descendants nonetheless reside in Africatown, raised on tales of the sunken slave ship and its passengers.
Clotilda: The Exhibition
Because of a wealth of firsthand accounts handed down from Cudjo Lewis and his contemporaries, Clotilda’s journey is likely one of the best-recorded slave voyages in American historical past. Africatown Heritage Home will heart the tales of the 110 survivors with interpretive textual content panels, paperwork, artifacts and even items of the ship.
“You’ll are available and see what these folks had been capable of do after they had been taken away from their houses and put in a spot unknown to them,” says Fairley. “I don’t know what my ancestors went by means of, however figuring out what the survivors of the Clotilda went by means of provides me a bit of my story.”
The exhibit opened to the general public on July 8. Capability is restricted and timed entry tickets are required. Buy on-line previous to visiting to safe most well-liked dates.
Rethinking the American narrative
Africatown Heritage Home, a brand new website constructed by the Cellular County Fee and the Metropolis of Cellular, joins a rising motion that reconsiders US historical past by means of the lens of Black Individuals.
In 2016, the Nationwide Museum of African American Historical past and Tradition in Washington, DC, grew to become the primary nationwide museum devoted completely to documenting the lives of African Individuals. In 2018, the Nationwide Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery, Alabama, was the primary of its sort, commemorating United States lynching victims. On June 27, the Worldwide African American Museum (IAAM) opened in Charleston, South Carolina, on what historian Henry Louis Gates, Jr. calls “floor zero for the African American expertise.”
These museums pressure guests to reckon with America’s iniquitous previous whereas constructing a blueprint for a greater tomorrow.
“The story of the Clotilda was not a ‘fable’ or a ‘legend’ because it was typically referred to by white folks, however an already current historical past, only one that was not informed or accepted because the dominant ‘American’ narrative,” mentioned documentary movie director Margaret Brown to Netflix. Her 2022 movie, Descendant, explores Africatown’s battle for justice.
Now, with museums like African Heritage Home taking the highlight, tales from folks like Cudjo Lewis can lastly get their due.