Group begins work to revitalize the Africatown community
MOBILE, Alabama (AP) – Longtime residents of the mobile community known as “Africatown USA” remember when it was a hive of activity, with the black descendants of the last slave ship to land in the United States- United looking after gardens, running businesses and filling churches. Today much of the place is a ramshackle landscape of wasteland and dilapidated vacant houses.
A group formed earlier this year to help turn the community around has started working in hopes of revitalizing the struggling area.
The Africatown Redevelopment Corp. first met Thursday at a community center in the heart of Africatown, reported al.com. Members elected a chair and discussed goals, including seeking grants and other financial support.
“We’re hoping to get grants, contributions and hit the lottery,” said state representative Adline Clarke, D-Mobile, who sponsored the legislation to form the nine-member organization.
Former bank manager and restaurant owner Marc Jackson, the new chairman of the board, said one improvement can lead to another, and housing will be a top priority.
“Providing affordable housing to the community and cleaning up the scourge… once we start doing that, a lot of other things will follow,” he said.
The region has virtually no trade apart from heavy industry near the Mobile River.
Africatown has been the source of renewed interest in recent years since the remains of the slave ship Clotilda were found in the river and publicly identified in 2019. A wealthy white businessman funded the ship’s last trip to Africa to secure slaves, and the schooner arrived in Mobile shortly before the Civil War with over 100 captive Africans who were forced into slavery.
After the war some of the former slaves settled on the riverbank and formed Africatown. In decline for decades, new projects to highlight the region’s history and attract visitors offer a chance for improvement.
A “Heritage House” museum is slated to open next year, and tours are scheduled to tell the unique story of Africatown. The Mobile County Commission this summer approved a contract to stabilize a dilapidated late 1800s house that may be linked to Clotilda survivors. The remains of the ship remain in the water, and it’s unclear what, if anything, could be done with it.
The redevelopment group is not directly involved in promoting tourism, but Clarke has high hopes for the group.
“It is the only organization that is solely focused on the total revitalization of Africatown,” Clarke said. “There are other organizations out there… that are doing a lot of good work in this area. But what this council is looking at is infill housing where there is vacant land. We restore housing in poor condition if it can be done, or demolish it and install a new structure on the site. We are trying to remake a whole neighborhood of this neighborhood. “