The discovery was aided by input from the Smithsonian Institution, the National Park Service, the National Geographic Society and the Slave Wrecks Project, a multinational group researching the slave trade, and comes at a moment when civil rights museums have opened across the South. African-American history is also finding powerful new expression in the National Museum of African American History and Culture, which opened in Washington in 2016.
But the news is likely to resonate most forcefully in Africatown, a working-class community of about 2,000 people north of downtown Mobile. It was founded by people who had been transported to Alabama in the Clotilda’s hull, and it was a place where African languages were spoken for decades.
“It lends credibility to the community and to who we are as not just West Africans, but we are North Africans and West Africans and part of a human story, not a human tragedy.”
“The discovery of the Clotilda sheds new light on a lost chapter of American history,” says Fredrik Hiebert, archaeologist-in-residence at the National Geographic Society, which supported the search. “This finding is also a critical piece of the story of Africatown, which was built by the resilient descendants of America’s last slave ship.”
The wreckage of the Clotilda – the last known ship to bring enslaved people from Africa to the U.S. – has been found in the waters off Mobile, a discovery that provided proof of what some had deemed a legend.
The Mobile River System — which includes every stream that flows into Mobile Bay, from the Cahaba, Coosa, and Tallapoosa in the north part of the state, to the Tombigbee, Alabama and the rivers of the Delta in the southern part – has been named one of the ten most endangered river systems in the country.
In announcing the listing, the conservation group American Rivers cites the system’s claim to fame as America’s Amazon, a reference to the film and AL.com series of the same name, which both highlighted the exceptional diversity of plants and animals in and around these rivers. Thanks primarily to the life in these rivers, Alabama ranks number one in the nation for the number of aquatic species, including fish, turtles, mussels, crawfish and snails.