A new museum tells the stories of Mobile, Alabama’s Africatown community

Archaeologists are recovering the remains of the “Clotilda,” the last ship that smuggled enslaved Africans to the United States. The forthcoming Africatown Heritage House is dedicated to the stories of its passengers – and Africatown, the place they built.



<p>From left: Erik Overbey Collection, The Doyle Leale McCall Rare Book and Manuscript Library, University of South Alabama;  Carmen K. Sisson/Cloudybright/Alamy</p>
<p> From left: Oluale Kossola, one of the last known survivors of those kidnapped aboard the Clotilda, in the community he helped found;  a bust of Kossola (renamed Cudjoe Lewis) in front of the Union Missionary Baptist Church of Africatown.” data-src=”https://s.yimg.com/ny/api/res/1.2/hBmXSsK6NW0pDYkEjOOsnA–/YXBwaWQ9aGlnaGxhbmRlcjt3PTk2MDtoPTY0MA– /https://media.zenfs.com/en/travel.travelleisure.com/872db636e80b6ad8915d4ce696971993″/><noscript><img alt=From left: Erik Overbey Collection, The Doyle Leale McCall Rare Book and Manuscript Library, University of South Alabama; Carmen K. Sisson/Cloudybright/Alamy

From left: Oluale Kossola, one of the last known survivors of those kidnapped aboard the Clotilda, in the community he helped found; a bust of Kossola (renamed Cudjoe Lewis) in front of the Union Missionary Baptist Church of Africatown.” src=”https://s.yimg.com/ny/api/res/1.2/hBmXSsK6NW0pDYkEjOOsnA–/YXBwaWQ9aGlnaGxhbmRlcjt3PTk2MDtoPTY0MA–/https ://media.zenfs.com/en/travel.travelleisure.com/872db636e80b6ad8915d4ce696971993″ class=”caas-img”/>

From left: Erik Overbey Collection, The Doyle Leale McCall Rare Book and Manuscript Library, University of South Alabama; Carmen K. Sisson/Cloudybright/Alamy

From left: Oluale Kossola, one of the last known survivors of those kidnapped aboard the Clotilda, in the community he helped found; a bust of Kossola (renamed Cudjoe Lewis) in front of Africatown’s Union Missionary Baptist Church.

In 1860, more than half a century after the slave trade was abolished nationwide, the Clotilde sailed to Mobile, Alabama with 110 enslaved West Africans. The human cargo was offloaded and the schooner set on fire to hide the evidence. But its impact can still be felt in Africatown, a neighborhood established after Emancipation by those who had arrived on the ship. Many residents can still trace their lineage back to these founders.

That Clotilde remained missing until 2019, when archaeologists discovered the remains at the bottom of the Mobile River more than 150 years after it sank. Since then, scientists have been studying the submerged ship in hopes of uncovering the many stories it could tell. Next year, the Alabama Historical Commission and the History Museum of Mobile will unveil a landmark project: the Africatown Heritage House, an interpretive center that will house the pieces recovered to date. The museum will also tell the dramatic stories of kidnapped West Africans and the resilient black community they created – the subject of works such as Bob Marley’s Buffalo Soldier, Zora Neal Hurston’s Barracoon: The Story of the Last ‘Black Cargo’ and the Netflix -Documentary “Descendant” presented by Barack and Michelle Obama’s Higher Ground Productions.

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<p>Oliver Dorgan/Courtesy of Visit Mobile</p>
<p> A mural of Clotilda on Africatown Boulevard.” data-src=”https://s.yimg.com/ny/api/res/1.2/QElZkIODz.fw1EJ.PI5Iiw–/YXBwaWQ9aGlnaGxhbmRlcjt3PTk2MDtoPTY0MQ–/https://media. zenfs.com/en/travel.travelleisure.com/f10a97bcefdcadea8b7fd5339565cc80″/><noscript><img alt=Oliver Dorgan/Courtesy of Visit Mobile

A mural of Clotilda on Africatown Boulevard.” src=”https://s.yimg.com/ny/api/res/1.2/QElZkIODz.fw1EJ.PI5Iiw–/YXBwaWQ9aGlnaGxhbmRlcjt3PTk2MDtoPTY0MQ–/https://media.zenfs. com/en/travel.travelleisure.com/f10a97bcefdcadea8b7fd5339565cc80″ class=”caas-img”/>

Oliver Dorgan/Courtesy of Visit Mobile

A mural of the Klotilde on Africatown Boulevard.

The museum is “a collaborative effort to unravel the long-questioned, inspirational story of clotilde, its prisoners and their unique place in the history of this country,” said Mobile County Commissioner Merceria Ludgood. “Your story is an American story.”

Bringing together the voices of current Africatown residents and historians from across the country, the Heritage House showcases personal accounts, historical documents, archival images and never-before-seen artifacts Clotilde‘s landing to date. The immersive experience culminates in a space dedicated to the future of Africatown, prompting visitors to reflect on the city’s heritage Clotilde and the lives it has changed.

A version of this story first appeared in the November 2022 issue of Travel + Leisure under the heading “Coming to the Surface”.

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