Clotilda: The Exhibition at Africatown Heritage House

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Under the cover of night in the summer of 1860, a ship carrying 110 Africans slipped into Mobile Bay. The Clotilda, the last known US slave ship, made its illegal voyage 52 years after the international slave trade was outlawed. In the years to come, the displaced Africans survived enslavement and established a community as free Americans. But they also maintained their African identities, creating the tight-knit, independent community known as Africatown. Then, in 2019, it was announced that the shipwreck of the Clotilda had been discovered at the bottom of the Mobile River: a tangible link to the names and stories passed down through generations of descendants.

In March 2020, the History Museum of Mobile announced a partnership with the Alabama Historical Commission, Mobile County Commission, and the City of Mobile to create a landmark exhibition at the Africatown Heritage House. Located in the heart of historic Africatown, the Heritage House is adjacent to the Mobile County Training School and the Robert L. Hope Community Center.

Clotilda: The Exhibition covers the story of the Clotilda with a special focus on the people of the story – their individuality, their perseverance, and the extraordinary community they established. The exhibition tells the story of the 110 remarkable men, women and children, from their West African beginnings, to their enslavement, to their settlement of Africatown, and finally the discovery of the sunken schooner, all through a combination of interpretive text panels, documents, and artifacts. The pieces of the Clotilda that have been recovered from the site of the wreck are on display in the exhibition, on loan from the Alabama Historical Commission. The exhibition was curated, developed, and designed in conjunction with the local community and the wider descendent community, and in consultation with experts around the country.

The exhibition itself –about 2,500 square feet – is a rich, multi-sensory space, dense with compelling stories and images. Woven into the larger story, visitors can expect to see and hear lots of primary source reports and stories of individuals: their histories, their families, their resilient spirit. Inside the exhibition, visitors can expect a dramatic space and a step-by-step chronology from the story’s West African origins through the founding and development of Africatown. Towards the end of the exhibition, visitors will emerge into a space that looks towards the future of Africatown and invites visitors to respond to what they have seen. Tickets are available for purchase in advance on Mobile County residents receive free admission.