Africa Town, Alabama



 

Alabama



Mobile

 

 


   Don't forget to check out the video at the end!
 

AfricaTown is just another spot on the map if you are not aware of its history.  It is hard to say where its boundaries are by just looking at it.  I have gone through the area for years without giving it a second thought until I began to actually do a little research on it.

AfricaTown is also know as Africatown and Africa Town. It lies just three miles north of Mobile, Alabama, along the Gulf Coast where the last cargo of Africans landed in 1860. Their landing marked the last recorded attempt to import Africans to the United States for the purpose of slavery.  These Tarkbar people created their own tribal community and retained their customs and language following the American Civil War.

AfricaTown had its beginnings in a plan by some wealthy Mobile brothers and their friends to see if they could evade the law and import slaves. They bet each other they could elude federal authorities. Timothy Meaher, a shipbuilder and landowner; his brother Byrnes Meaher, John Dabey and others invested money to hire a crew and captain for one of Meaher's ships to go to Africa and bring back laborers for slaves. 

They used Timothy Meaher's ship Clotilde under Captain William Foster. It sailed in 1860 from Ghana, West Africa for its final destination of Mobile, more than half a century after the slave trade had been outlawed. Over 100 Africans were aboard, having been sold into bondage by the King of Dahomey.

Dahomey warriors raided a Tarkbar village near the city of Tamale in Ghana, and took the survivors to Whydah, now Benin, where they were put up for sale. The captured tribesmen were sold for $100 each to William Foster, captain of the Clotilde. 

In July 1860, the Clotilde entered Mobile Bay and approached the port of Mobile. Captain Foster loaded the slaves onto a riverboat and sent them ashore; he then set fire to the Clotilde to hide the evidence of the crime. The Africans were distributed among the parties who had invested in the venture. Federal authorities learned of this illegal activity and prosecuted Meaher and his partners. The 1861 federal court case of US v. Byrnes Meaher, Timothy Meaher and John Dabey did not find enough evidence to convict Meaher. The case was dismissed. The start of the American Civil War was believed to have been important in the government's dropping the case.

Thirty-two Africans had been taken to Magazine Point, the property owned by Timothy Meaher north of Mobile. As the government was investigating the illegal importation, the Africans were left on their own to survive. This was the site that would become AfricaTown. Among the Africans was a man named Cudjoe Kazoola Lewis, who was the last survivor of the original group, living until 1935. The photo to the right is of Cudjoe Lewis in his cabin.

The group built shelters of whatever they found growing in the Alabama forests, and adapted their hunting to the rich game they found in the area. After the Civil War and Emancipation, they were joined by a number of their fellow tribesmen. A man who became known as Charlie Poteet was their chief and they were aided by their medicine man Jabez. In time they formed a self-governing society. They spoke their native language and carried on their tribal traditions into the 1950s.

Gradually the original group of settlers and their descendants dwindled, as people moved to other areas. Their children went to public schools and learned English.

Remaining members would gather on Sundays after church to discuss the group's  welfare. Of the remaining people, Cudjoe Lewis was the best known and gave interviews to the many writers who focused their work on Africa Town during the early 1900s. Up until World War II, AfricaTown remained a distinct community. Eventually, Prichard, a suburb of Mobile, grew to encompass the site. 

In 1997 descendants and friends formed the AfricaTown Community Mobilization Project to seek recognition of an AfricaTown Historical District and encourage the restoration and development of the townsite.

On February 6, 2011 the African American Heritage Trail held a ceremony at the Union Baptist Church to celebrate the unveiling of the African American Heritage Trail Marker at the Old Plateau Cemetery (across the street from church). This marker honors the lives of the many slaves brought to the area during those dark times.

Three member of Alabama's Chapter 1 of the National Association of Buffalo Soldiers also participated in the event. These soldiers honored Emperor Green, a Buffalo Soldier buried at the cemetery. Buffalo Soldiers played an important role in the military. We have documented some information in our Fort Huachuca, Arizona and Fort Douglas, Utah issues.

One of the routes to AfricaTown is over the Mobile River using the Cochrane-AfricaTown Bridge. The bridge is a cable-stayed bridge carrying mainline US 90 and Truck Route US 98 across the Mobile River in Mobile, Alabama. It was named for the Cochrane Bridge, which it replaced, and for the former community of Africa Town, which once stood on the western approach to the bridge. Volkert & Associates, Inc. design for the bridge earned it the Outstanding Engineering Achievement in the U.S.A. Award from the National Society of Professional Engineers and the Award of Excellence in Highway Design from the Federal Highway Administration, both in 1992. It is the only cable-stayed bridge in the state of Alabama. The bridge was damaged on August 29, 2005 when an oil platform, the PSS Chemul, broke free from drydock and was wedged under the bridge by Hurricane Katrina.
 

 

A Drive Over the Cochrane-AfricaTown Bridge

     


 

 

 
 

 

 

 

 

 
 

 

   

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