MOBILE, Ala. (AP) — Officials have taken a step toward establishing a long-delayed state park at Africatown USA, the Gulf Coast settlement established after the Civil War by African captives who were brought to Alabama aboard the last slave ship known to land in the United States.
Mobile County commissioners have authorized a contract with a private company for a study to determine whether it would be feasible to develop Africatown USA State Park, al.com reported. Such a project was first discussed in the 1980s but nothing ever happened.
The unanimous vote came Monday amid renewed interested following the discovery of the remains of the wooden slave schooner, the Clotilda, on a muddy river bottom near Mobile in late 2018. Dozens of Africans who were enslaved after arrival settled in a riverside area that came to called Africatown after the war ended in 1865.
State Rep. Sam Jones, a former mayor, said a park highlighting the area could be “a real tourist attraction in Mobile if done properly.”
“There are not many historic attractions in Mobile other than some of the housing, but if you look at that area, it has a real history to it. Now we are at the point where it can really change the character of that community and be a real tourism and educational opportunity,” he said.
The feasibility study will look at issues related to wetlands in the area, which is located a few miles north of Mobile, and access, said Commissioner Merceria Ludgood.
Ludgood also had $15,000 set aside to work on projects in the area that could include landscaping and clearing away dump sites within the community, which has long suffered from pollution and poverty. She also said the money could be utilized for “low-level housing rehab.”
“My particular interest is keeping things happening in the community for the people who live there. They need to see it’s more than just taking advantage of tourism opportunities,” she said. “This is about revitalizing the community and reclaiming properties in the community and dealing with blight issues and things like that.”
Then-Gov. George C. Wallace signed a bill to establish an Africatown USA park in 1985. It was supposed to be a roughly 150-acre area in Prichard that recognized the area’s history and culture, but the project was never funded so it never occurred.
Money would still be a question today, but community members hope that the Clotilda discovery will help spur redevelopment of Africatown, much of which is blighted.
The commission also approved a six-month agreement with the city of Prichard, which is near Mobile and includes much of the area, to access property for engineering and other studies and to analyze future development possibilities at a park.
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