A new museum dedicated to the lives and legacies of people aboard the last known ship to transport enslaved Africans to the United States has opened in Alabama.
Mobile’s Africatown Heritage House (2465 Wimbush St.) chronicles the history of the Clotilda, which brought 110 captive Africans from present-day Benin to Mobile Bay in 1860. Though slavery was still legal in the Southern U.S. at the time, Congress had outlawed bringing in new people for enslavement more than 50 years earlier.
The illegal Clotilda venture was planned and paid for by Mobile business leader Timothy Meaher. After unloading the kidnapped Africans in Alabama, the ship’s captain, William Foster, burned the Clotilda to hide evidence of the crime. Remnants of the ship sank to the bottom of the Mobile River, where they stayed until 2019, when researchers finally discovered the wreck.
The six-room Clotilda exhibit at the new museum puts artifacts from the ship—including pieces of the schooner’s beams and planking—on public display for the first time.
But the focus of the facility is on the ship’s 110 captive passengers—their West African origins, horrific journey across the Atlantic Ocean, years of enslavement, and, following the Civil War, establishment of Mobile’s Africatown, a remarkable community formed and led by African-born Americans.
The museum displays photos and documents such as marriage certificates and land deeds, and recounts the founding of a church, a school, and other institutions maintained by Clotilda survivors and their descendants to assert independence and keep up African traditions.
The exhibit also highlights the stories of individual survivors, according to AL.com, such as Oluale Kossola (also known as Cudjoe Lewis), whose interviews in the 1920s provided an invaluable historical account of the Clotilda; and Matlida McCrear, the ship’s last known survivor, who died in 1940.
A memorial wall of names at the museum identifies about three dozen known Clotilda survivors by their African and American names, with more than 70 repetitions of “Unknown” as a tribute to those for whom no archival records have been found. An audio component of the memorial features the voices of Clotilda descendants reading the names as well as all the “Unknown”s.
Operated by the nonprofit History Museum of Mobile, Africatown Heritage House and its Clotilda exhibition opened to the public on July 8, the 163rd anniversary of the ship’s landing in Alabama.
(Africatown Heritage House in Mobile, Alabama | Credit: Tiffany Pogue)
Altevese Lumbers-Rosario, vice president of the Clotilda Descendants Association, said in a statement, “I hope that visitors leave Africatown Heritage House knowing that there is still greatness in the community and amongst the people, and feel deeply connected to something larger than themselves. That is what my ancestor, Kossula, and the remaining founders of Africatown strived to embody, teach their descendants, and anchor their lives to.”
Tickets, which are timed and must be reserved in advance, are $15 for adults; $9 for seniors (65 and older), students (18 and older with valid school ID), and active or retired military (with valid ID); $8 for kids ages 6 to 18; and free for kids ages 5 and younger.
For more information or to reserve tickets, go to Clotilda.com.