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The Journal Gazette

  • Associated Press A chimney, the last remaining original structure from a settlement of freed slaves called Africatown, stands in an abandoned lot in Mobile, Ala. Descendants of its founders will gather today.

Saturday, February 09, 2019 1:00 am

Slaves' descendants to celebrate Africatown

Associated Press

MOBILE, Ala. – The years have been hard on Africatown USA.

Established by the last boatload of Africans abducted into slavery and shipped to the United States just before the Civil War, the coastal Alabama community now shows scarcely a trace of its founders.

Industrial development choked off access to the Mobile River and Chickasaw Creek, where generations caught crabs and fish. Factories now occupy land that once held modest homes surrounded by gardens, fruit trees and clucking chickens. The population has plummeted; many of the remaining homes are boarded up and rotting.

But after years of watching the steady decline, descendants of the freed slaves who established Africatown are trying to create new ties and, perhaps, rebuild a community that's in danger of fading away.

Relatives of the 110 people who were kidnapped in West Africa, shipped to the U.S. and sold into slavery are organizing a get-together called the “Spirit of Our Ancestors” festival, set for today. Five families were involved in the initial planning, and organizer Joycelyn Davis said interest mushroomed once word got out.

She said people who once were ashamed to say their ancestors were sold into slavery are finding new pride in their heritage that could breathe new life into Africatown.

“I am so proud to say I am a descendant. That wasn't a word that I used maybe 10, 15 years ago,” said Davis, 42, a sixth-generation granddaughter of African captive Charlie Lewis. “It was shameful as a child.”

While Africatown was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2012, plans to make it a major tourist attraction have gone nowhere. A welcome center was destroyed by Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and hasn't been replaced; two busts at the site were decapitated by vandals.