AFRICAN AMERICAN CULTURAL HERITAGE
Mobile celebrates our African American heritage every day, and we want to share that with you.
In a city that is over 300 years old, our culture and traditions are longstanding. The contributions of our people and their stories make Mobile who and what we are today. Some stories bring life to our history. Some stories embrace resilience and bravery. Some stories are difficult to hear. But all of Mobile’s stories are uniquely ours, and we are honored to share them with you.
Clotilda: The Exhibition at Africatown Heritage House
One of our most poignant stories is that of the Clotilda. In 1860, 52 years after the international slave trade had been outlawed, the secretly outfitted schooner Clotilda was used to smuggle 110 enslaved Africans into the United States, landing along the banks of the Mobile River. In an attempt to conceal the crime, the schooner was burned and scuttled. The Clotilda is the last known slave ship in the United States. In 2019 the schooner was discovered in the waterways just north of downtown Mobile. On July 8, the History Museum of Mobile will open the long-awaited exhibit Clotilda: The Exhibition in the newly constructed Africatown Heritage House. The exhibit will contain artifacts from the schooner and tell the story of the extraordinary people who survived enslavement and founded a town of free people called Africatown.
Opening July 8, 2023! Capacity is very limited and timed entry tickets are required. To make sure you’re able to experience Clotilda: The Exhibition on your preferred day, please purchase tickets online in advance of your visit. Exhibition opens to the public July 8, 2023. Click here to purchase tickets!
HOURS OF OPERATION
Tuesday – Saturday: 10 AM to 5 PM
Sunday – Monday: CLOSED
Dora Franklin Finley African-American Heritage Trail
“You can’t know where you are going unless you know where you’ve been.” This is how the late Dora Franklin Finley began all her stories. The architect of the Dora Franklin Finley African American Heritage Trail wanted to share all the contributions that African Americans made to Mobile with the world. Her vision lives on today with a heritage trail that encompasses 40 points of interest, each celebrated with a historical marker. When you tour the DFFAAHT, you will be introduced to Africatown, Stone Street Baptist Church established in 1807 and regarded as the mother church of all African American Baptist churches in Alabama, and the home of Betty Hunter who established a successful hack service in 1876. You will be introduced to historical figures like Wallace Turnage, the inspiration for the book “A Slave No More.” You will learn about Mobile’s great baseball legends including Leroy Robert “Satchal” Paige and “Hammering” Hank Aaron. You will see the great historic churches and schools that played such important roles in the fabric of the African American communities.
To learn more about the African American experience in Mobile, there are a variety of tours that you can take from the storytellers of Africatown. Walking tours, driving tours, boat tours and step-on guides are available. Our heritage tours give you the opportunity to meet our storytellers and experience the many contributions African Americans have made to Mobile’s story.
There is no story richer in Mobile’s history than that of Creole Fire Station #1. Founded in 1819 by Mobile’s Creole community, it is Alabama’s first volunteer fire department. Located on the west side of downtown Mobile, the volunteer firemen, all free men of color, had a reputation for having the fastest response time of all the fire companies in the city. Creole Fire Station’s volunteer firemen used rejected racehorses to pull their horse-drawn equipment and would literally race to fires. They were always the first to arrive and were known for their bravery in fighting fires. In 1869 renowned architect James H. Hutchisson designed the building that housed Creole Fire Station #1. The newly constructed fire station served as the cultural and business center for Creole Society, hosting over 200 wedding receptions and serving as home to the Excelsior Band. In 1888 the City of Mobile Fire Department absorbed Creole Fire Station #1. In 1926 the fire station closed it’s doors and in 1970 the volunteer fire company disbanded. The legacy of Creole Fire Station #1 still lives on in Mobile. If you look at the list of firefighters, you will see many of Mobile’s original Creole family names listed among the firefighters today. Creole Fire Station #1 has been lovingly restored and is now a private residence. It is a stop on the DFFAAHT.
Our Hometown Sound
One of the best stories in Mobile is the story of the beloved Excelsior Band. This African American brass band is believed to be the oldest marching jazz band in the United States. The band was founded on November 23, 1883, by John Alexander Pope, fire chief of the Creole Fire Station #1, to celebrate the birth of his son. The band marched in their first Mardi Gras parade in 1884 and still leads Mobile’s parades each and every year. The Excelsior Band has been awarded the Alabama Folk Heritage Award by the Alabama State Council of the Arts, inducted into the Gulf Coast Ethnic Heritage Jazz Festival Hall of Fame, lead the Alabama Bicentennial Parade in 2019, and was recognized by the National Endowment of the Arts as a National Heritage Fellow in 2022. It only takes listening to that iconic four-note blast from the trumpet player to know that the Excelsior Band is in the house! Da-da-daaaa-da!
As you move through the streets of our city, don’t miss the stories that surround you. In Mardi Gras Park stop and view the original footings of Fort Conde, constructed in 1711 by African American and Native American enslaved people and five free men of color who worked as brick masons during construction. In Cooper Riverside Park pause for a moment to read the prestigious UNESCO marker placed on the banks of the Mobile River. This is a site of memory for the Slave Route: Resistance, Liberty, Heritage trail honoring the memory of the ancestors. For a more current history lesson, check out Unity Park, dedicated to former mayor Joseph Langan and civil rights leader John LeFlore, champions of desegregation in Mobile. And the newest point-of-pride for our city is the mural located at Government and Bayou Streets. The mural honors the legacy of the Figures family, leaders in justice and equality.
As a city born to celebrate, we celebrate our African American Heritage all year round. From festivals, commemorations, street parties, special events, remembrances and dedications, there is always something fun-filled and meaningful to enjoy. Check out the list of special events and come celebrate with us.
As we continue to expand the stories of our African American heritage, new exhibits and cultural experiences are contentiously in being developed. We hope you will make plans to include a visit to one of these upcoming exhibits and historical sites when you visit Mobile. Come celebrate our heritage and culture with us!
Franklin House & Gallery, home to Mobile’s Dr. James Alexander Franklin, Sr. named by Ebony Magazine in 1954 as “the south’s richest Negro doctor.” Opening in September 2023.
Historic Avenue Cultural Center, in partnership with the Alabama Contemporary Art Center, will open the newly curated museum celebrating historic Davis Avenue and African American life in Mobile. Opening in September 2023.
University of South Alabama Archeology Museum is curating a new exhibit that will trace the history of three iconic Mobile African American families from 1890 to 1990. More information to come. Opening September 2023.