The Africatown group meets for the first time: focused “only on the total revitalization” of the community founded by the slaves
Africatown plans to become a tourist spot in 2022, with the opening of a new “Heritage House” museum and the start of land and water tours with storytellers who will describe the unique story of a community founded by survivors of ‘a slave ship. .
But the small community north of downtown Mobile is also in need of revitalization, and at least one group is on a mission to improve housing and attract and develop commerce within the historic community.
The Africatown Redevelopment Corporation, formed in the spring by state law, met for the first time Thursday at the Robert L. Hope Community Center in the heart of the community. The group’s nine-member board, which was formed earlier this week, voted on who it wants to serve as board members, including the chairman. They also selected a bank to handle their finances and received an update on obtaining crucial nonprofit and tax-exempt status so group members could start seeking grants. and financial assistance.
“We’re hoping to get grants, contributions and draw the lottery,” said State Representative Adline Clarke, D-Mobile, laughing at the end of the meeting.
Clarke was the sponsor of legislation forming the ARC, which was enacted by Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey in April.
“You all know how to get special funding for projects like this,” Clarke told board members. “We will encourage you to make Africatown a sustainable community. “
There will be plenty of challenges. Much of the community includes an aging housing stock, some of which is condemned or left in disrepair. The community itself has faced generations of hardship due to declining housing values, poverty and the abundance of industrial development nearby.
Clarke said she had no goals or measurable elements to determine the group’s success. She said her goal in recent weeks has been to form the group and sit down for her first meeting. She said the council is planning to hold a retreat soon.
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 possible, or demolish it and install a new structure on the site. We are trying to remake a whole neighborhood of this neighborhood. “
The board of directors determined that its first chairman was Marc Jackson, the owner and director of Kazoola Eatery & Entertainment and a former bank executive. He was one of two appointments made by the late Councilor Levon Manzie, who represented Africatown in District 2 of Mobile City Council before his death on September 18.
Jackson represents a third generation of Africatown residents. He said increasing the area’s affordable housing stock 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,” Jackson said.
Clarke said the board members have a track record of applying for grants and finding funds, and she expects them to reach out to Mobile County and City officials for help. public to advance revitalizations.
Some efforts are underway. The Mobile County Commission, behind the efforts of Commissioner Merceria Ludgood, approved a contract earlier this summer to stabilize a dilapidated house in the community. The house was built in the late 1800s and may be linked to survivors aboard the Clotilda.
A hull of the slave ship was discovered in 2019, which kicked off revitalization efforts and tourism talks related to the Heritage House which will open in early 2022. The Clotilda, with on board 110 African slaves, arrived in the troubled waters of Mobile Bay in 1860 following a gruesome 45-day transatlantic voyage. The survivors of the ship, after the civil war, settled into the community and passed their unique African traditions and stories down through the generations.
But the community, while it was once thriving with local businesses, has very little commerce outside of heavy industrial activity near the Mobile River.
The discovery of the ship has residents and supporters envisioning potential for Africatown as an international tourist attraction at a time when cultural tourism is growing in popularity. Defenders of Africatown often cite the National Peace and Justice Memorial lynching memorial in Montgomery as an example of what they covet in Mobile.
Tourism will not be part of ARC’s mission, although the group’s statutes include “preservation of history”.
For now, Clarke has said she’s happy with the initial enthusiasm. The board is expected to meet monthly, an increase in the number of meetings listed in its statutes.
“The bylaws say they are to meet quarterly,” Clark said. “They said (Thursday) that they wanted to meet once a month. I find that admirable.
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