By: Janet Fiskio
(Associate Professor, Environmental Studies and Comparative American Studies at Oberlin College)
This past November 30-December 1, the Rock Ethics Institute at the Pennsylvania State University hosted a grant writing conference for Africatown. Members of the MCTS and Mobile County school board, the MCTSAA, and faculty and students from Penn State, Michigan State University, and Oberlin College attended. The Rock Ethics Institute supports engaged research to address society’s ethical challenges, including work on environmental and restorative justice. Ted Toadvine, the director of the institute, has visited Africatown twice as a co-leader for Oberlin College trips. We discussed the current challenges facing the MCTS and also its strengths, such as its dedicated faculty and administration, and explored opportunities for bringing useful resources to support the school’s programs. Kyle Powys Whyte, Timnick Chair in the Humanities and Associate Professor of Philosophy & Community Sustainability at Michigan State University, offered expert guidance on applying for grants from private and public institutions. Kyle is a member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation and participates in innovative collaborations between universities and local communities, with a particular focus on climate change, environmental justice, and food sovereignty. During this workshop we identified potential grants and brainstormed possibilities for future collaborations, including partnerships between Africatown, HBCUs, and tribal colleges and communities. The grant writing team will continue to pursue the plans discussed at the workshop and is currently developing grant proposals to support the future of Africatown and the MCTS.
By: William Darity Jr. (Professor at Duke University) and Kirsten Mullen
About seven years ago, Sian Hunter, at the time an editor at the University of North Carolina Press and now the Senior Acquisitions Editor at the University Press of Florida, heard a presentation that one of us gave on black reparations and urged us to write a book on the topic. In 2008, we jointly had written an op-ed for The Root called “The Big Payback,” which helped give us the confidence we needed to pursue and successfully bring such a project to completion. In December immediately past, we finally delivered the full manuscript to the Press. We anticipate that the book, titled From Here to Equality: Reparations for Black Americans in the 21st Century, will appear February 2020.
William Darity Jr We hope that our book will introduce several new and important dimensions to the reparations conversation. We advance a case for reparations predicated not only upon the deep injustices of American slavery. In fact, we flinch when we hear references made, narrowly, to “slavery reparations.”
Compensation due to black Americans also must address the harms of the near century-long-epoch of legal apartheid in the United States, the Jim Crow period, and ongoing discrimination, economic inequality, extra-judicial police killings, and mass incarceration. A suitable program of black reparations must be directed at restitution for the grievous wrongs visited upon blacks in America both during the slavery years and after slavery ended.
A program of reparations should achieve three objectives: acknowledgement, redress, and closure. In a prelude to the extended discussion in our book, our article in The Root introduced each of these goals with the following description:
• Acknowledgement involves an apology for slavery, legal segregation (Jim Crow) and ongoing discrimination in housing, access to credit, employment and the criminal justice system. Essentially, Congress would be admitting that while these institutions were legal, they were immoral and caused extensive damage that continues today. Acknowledgement would lead to a rethinking of our history, a critical step in the healing process.
• [Redress] involves [restitution] — compensation to eliminate racial inequality. This includes options such as direct payments, vouchers for schooling or business start-ups and the formation of trust funds to purchase stock shares for African Americans. It also could include the development and implementation of school curricula examining America’s racial history and the creation of community level institutions to promote sustained racial equality.
• Closure involves mutual reconciliation between the beneficiaries of white supremacy and those harmed by it. Whites and blacks would come to terms over the past, confront the present, and unite to create a new future. Once the reparations program is executed and racial inequality is eliminated, African Americans would make no further claims for more race-specific policies on American government.
These three objectives are summarized by the acronym ARC, suggestive of the famous phrase that Martin Luther King Jr. borrowed from the 19th century transcendentalist, Theodore Parker, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” We believe that the moral universe must be propelled toward justice. Black reparations can drive the nation, forcefully, in the ethical direction.
In addition, we are specific about the criteria for eligibility for reparations. To receive the benefits of the compensatory policy, an individual must demonstrate that they had an ancestor who was enslaved in the United States and, for at least ten years before the adoption of the reparations program that they self-identified as black, African American, Afro-American, colored, or Negro. In the current parlance, black reparations in the United States must be targeted to benefit “ADOS”, American Descendants of Slavery, who have a profound and long-standing claim for justice from the federal government.
We reject the judicial route to establishing a reparations program and insist upon Congressional approval. This, of course, will require our national political leaders to take up the cause of black reparations. It is noteworthy that one of the current Presidential candidates, Marianne Williamson, has, in fact, endorsed black reparations. We believe the first and only presidential candidate to support black reparations, until Williamson, was Cynthia McKinney in 2008.
The difficulty with Williamson’s initial declaration of support for reparations is her recommendation for a program amounting to $100 billion. Apparently, Williamson arrived at this sum by seeking an amount similar to the $89 billion commitment made by the German government to victims of the Holocaust. But $100 billion is far too low. Indeed, it is not clear why the sum of money assigned to compensate victims of a genocidal horror that largely took place over the course of five years is relevant to the determination of the sum that should be assigned to compensate victims of 242 years of the damages of white supremacy—242 years since the founding of the American republic.
By: Robert Brzuszek, Professor at Mississippi State University
“This nation needs to heal itself, we need to heal ourselves. And the process of that healing is going back to nature—from the water, to the land, to the plants.” –Anderson Flen
My colleague Chuo Li and I first heard these words when our urban design studio class from Mississippi State University visited Africatown last March. The class was invited by Anderson, Joe Womack, Mississippi NPS Field Office Director Liz Smith-Incer, and others, to come visit the town and to hear its story. We met in the Whippet’s Den of the Training School, with its walls surrounded by the artifacts and memories of those who lived there, went to school there, and played there. We heard their stories of what was; and the dreams and hopes of what the community could be once again. Our hosts went all out to show us the sights and historical areas of the community—from the Bridge, to the Place of Baptisms, Lewis Landing, and Hog Bayou. They had asked our class for ideas that would enhance the community for residents and visitors, and to include the significant places within Africatown.
Kent Ryden once wrote in Mapping the Invisible Landscape that a place is a “feeling measured in one’s muscles and bones.” Barely 24 hours after touring the Training School, the Place of Baptisms, Lewis Landing, Hog Bayou, the Bridge and the Mobile River, and the Cemetery — we felt this place within our bones. We felt it at the edge of Three Mile Creek, at the wild marshes of Hog Bayou, at the jarring contrasts of residential houses against major industries, and in the voices of those we heard. Though we didn’t live there, we just had a brief visit, but we felt that this was an important place, a significant place, one with a compelling story to share, and not just for us, but for all people to hear. Students were pretty quiet on the van rides coming back to Starkville, maybe tired from our visits, or maybe just realizing the daunting task ahead for the community.
But the students quickly dove into the project and organized themselves into teams. Each team took a different area of the community and looked for the connections to the important places there. They imagined themselves as visitors to the town and how they could visit the significant points. Students searched for available open space where needs for the community could be addressed.
One team took on the space underneath the Africatown-Cochran Bridge. They saw this as a place that links the community’s Past, Present and Future. They recognized the site’s current use for fishing and occasional festivals, but added in needed elements such as parking, a pier that goes out into the water with a kayak launch, festival space, a playground, and importantly–bathrooms. Their concept includes beach zones, gardens, and an area where small shops and businesses could sell things. Art sculptures that symbolize a significant part of the past, the Clotilde, would be abstracted into a large lawn feature. Murals painted on the large bridge supports would tell a larger story. A green buffer zone at the shoreline addresses the issues of erosion, water quality and flooding. Another group addressed the connections between Hog Bayou, the Mobile County Training School, the Community Center, and south to Kidd Park and the Cemetery. While much of the connecting links are currently open with lawn, students propose creating a safe pedestrian “greenway”, which is a walkway with trees and gardens, to connect these places. At Hog Bayou they envisioned a way to connect back into the nature there, with walking trails and kayak launches available to get people into the greater landscape. The community gardens along Jakes Lane would be expanded, and offer places to store tools and equipment, shaded seating areas, bathrooms, gathering spaces, and a produce market.
The Mobile County Training School already has ample open space for recreation, but the students suggested more organization to the school campus by adding baseball fields and enhanced landscapes. While the Community Center grounds is being used for its successful picnics and reunions, students recommended adding in soccer and football fields with movable benches and seating, a pavilion and stage, a children’s play area, and restrooms. Kidd Park is already a popular place for playing baseball and summer pool use, but ideas included adding in a children’s splash pad (water jets that come up from the pavement), walking track, and playground.
The third group addressed the areas to the south of the community, which includes the Lewis Landings, Three Mile Creek, Telegraph Road, and the Place of Baptisms. To promote pedestrian and bike access throughout Africatown, Lewis Landings 1 and 2, along with the Place of Baptism, would be connected by a network of trails and boardwalks. The first such site, the currently inaccessible Place of Baptism, would be connected to the nearest road, Chin Street, via boardwalk. As a result, Africatown’s residents and church-goers could walk from their respective homes and churches nearby- across Baybridge Road (using a newer, safer set of crosswalks) and onto the boardwalk before reaching the landmark. In combination with the Place of Baptism, Africatown’s Cemetery would also be accessible to the community using a series of trails that bypass the surrounding industry. Moving further west, the future redevelopment of Happy Hills would connect to the waterfront of Three-Mile Creek using a similar boardwalk and trail system that cuts through the existing woodland. It is at this point on the waterfront where the boardwalk would extend southwest along the shoreline until reaching the prime fishing destinations of Lewis Landings. Proposed use elements for Lewis Landings include Canoe and kayak launch ramp, fishing docks and boardwalks, parking lot, restrooms, picnic shelters, and benches.
The Place of Baptisms has long been a place of significance to the Africatown community. The creeks and streams, which fed Three Mile Creek near this location, were used by the local Baptist churches to perform baptisms. The group proposed from a starting point where Chin St turns north towards Bay Bridge Rd, a trail follows the abandoned railroad south towards Three Mile Creek. At the start of the path, there will be an information kiosk and gathering area for visitors and groups of school kids. The trail passes through a series of meadow woods and wetland environments as it meanders towards the creek. Baptism is renewing of faith and so along the path a series of sculptures, remind the visitor of the journey through life. As the trail approached the creek, the visitor passes through a group of statues representing the community before the vista opens out onto the river. The physical end of the path culminates in a single log sculpture and is a place of reflection and renewal. The sculpture there will symbolically face east in the local tradition of burial and looking towards the communities’ African heritage.
In a short three week project, students fleshed out their conceptual ideas to improve the connections and places of the Africatown community. They envisioned making places for the community to gather, and to pay homage to the places that made the community. The great American poet Wendell Berry once wrote that “If you don’t know where you are, you don’t know who you are.” While the residents of this community keenly know who they are, they also recognize where the seminal events and places of their and their ancestors’ lives occurred, and now seek to secure those places for future generations. By going back to nature, as Anderson Flen suggested, will the water, land, plants, and people, once again heal.
By: Lisa D. Jones, Executive Director –
Alabama Historical Commission
In March 2018, the Alabama Historical Commission (AHC), in coordination with the National Park Service (NPS), the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, (NMAAHC), Slave Wrecks Project (SWP), and SEARCH, completed the investigation of the shipwreck remains discovered in January 2018 in Baldwin County, Alabama, referred to as the Twelve Mile Island Wreck. After thorough testing of the wreck’s architectural and construction features and using minimally invasive research methods, it was concluded that the vessel is not Clotilda, the last known ship to bring enslaved Africans to the United States. The Twelve mile Island Wreck is too long, the timbers are too large, timber known to have been used to build Clotilda was not seen, and there was no evidence of burning.
On July 13, 2018, the Alabama Historical Commission (AHC) and SEARCH concluded a week-long survey of submerged portions of the Mobile River in Mobile County, Alabama, to begin a comprehensive shipwreck inventory and to possibly discover Clotilda, the last known ship to bring enslaved Africans to the United States. The mapping of the river was assisted by an earlier survey conducted by Southern Mississippi University. Their collegial sharing of data allowed SEARCH to augment their survey to include resources not seen in the USM survey that lay buried in the muddy bottom beneath the murky waters of the river.
The survey and resulting underwater dives to examine potential cultural resources were conducted by SEARCH under contract with the Alabama Historical Commission. Funding and support for the project was provided by the National Geographic Society, whose field team was led by archaeologist Dr. Fredrik Hiebert. Also participating in the survey was the Alabama Historical Commission’s State Archaeologist Stacye Hathorn, who also co-directed the March 2018 project.
Also rejoining the effort was Kamau Sadiki of the Slave Wrecks Project: “I’m honored as a representative of the Slave Wrecks Project to participate in this important work that has great potential for healing from Alabama to Africa.”
This section of the river, known historically as a “ship graveyard”, holds the remains of several vessels. Some are century-old iron barges, while others, like the wreck examined in March, are wooden-hulled schooners.
SEARCH Senior Vice President Dr. James Delgado, who led the SEARCH effort, cautions: “Making a positive identification of a wreck is a difficult if not tricky process, not unlike solving a CSI case. Finding an identity involves detailed study, collecting forensic evidence, and then systematically and aggressively questioning not why a wreck might be a certain ship, but why it cannot be. Finding Clotilda is one goal of this survey, which is focused on documenting everything we can find that has come to rest in this graveyard of ships, but it will take time to sift through the data, conduct laboratory study and do additional research before we can offer a scientific opinion on a possible Clotilda site. Further study, such as a detailed excavation, might be required. We know that some of the wreck sites found are not Clotilda, but even with that, we have yet to put a name to any of them.”
“This project will ultimately result in a National Register Maritime Historic District,” said Lisa D. Jones, AHC’s Executive Director. “This district will capture the span of the river’s use over the past two hundred years and the numerous ways human history has intertwined with the Mobile River.”
In December 2018, SEARCH, with the permission of and in partnership with both the Alabama Historical Commission and the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, and under permit of the Mobile Corps of Engineers, investigated a visible “small” wreck in a graveyard of larger vessels. Funding was provided by the Alabama Historical Commission, the National Geographic Society, and SEARCH. This is one of two visible vessels which merits further investigation. We have approached this work with a view to document all aspects and features of the wreck, determine its National Register eligibility, and to compare the wreck’s features with what is known about Clotilda. Although we find several features that are consistent with the Clotilda, we cannot at this time offer an unequivocal identification. Additional analysis is needed, and further excavation may be recommended. The absolute identification of unmarked shipwrecks with a specific name is a complex and often difficult, if not impossible, process. Research also continues on a number of buried anomalies seen only in the magnetometer data from the July survey.
“The discovery and first examination of the wreck by Ben Raines and our colleagues at the University of West Florida and the media stories that followed powerfully reconnected the story of Africatown to a national and international audience,” said Lisa D. Jones. “Clotilda is a story with profound meaning in Alabama, and especially to the descendant community of Africatown. While previous investigations of wrecks have proven not to be Clotilda, our state has taken a significant step in restoring historical memory and reconnecting the descendant communities of Africatown and Benin.”
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