Africatown Renovation Begins- Neighborhood Plan Is Working – $5.3 Million Approved

On the 150th anniversary of the “incorporation” of Africatown (1870 – 2020), the Year 2020 will be remembered in Africatown as the year monies were committed and projects were started that indicates that the renovation of our Historic Africatown Community has begun.

A total of over $5.3 Million has been set aside or approved thus far, which is only about 5% of what we estimate is the total renovation cost it will take to turn our historic community into an ‘African American Cultural Heritage Destination.” The funded projects mentioned below are what I consider “tangible funded projects” because money will actually be exchanged to get the project done. There are other projects I will mention in another blog that I consider “intangible funded projects” that are just as important to the success of the Africatown renovation process.

The largest, most well-known of the currently underway is The Africatown Connections Blueway Project, initiated in 2016 through a grant with the National Park Service’s Rivers, Trails, and Conservation Assistance program supports community-led natural resource conservation and outdoor recreation projects across the nation. These projects require technical assistance from many sources — colleges and universities, public and private organizations, governments and many volunteers.

Below is an account of the funding that has been approved thus far and the backstory behind the funding for each.
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THE AFRICATOWN WELCOME CENTER – $3.6 Million

About 5 years ago, 6 people begin meeting 3 times a week over a 6 month period, to come up with projects to be put into a portal to be approved for funding because of the BP Oil Spill into the Gulf of Mexico. Those 6 people were; Omar Smith, Joe Womack, Donna Mitchell, Nashid Rushdan, Danny Patterson and Louis Colston. We eventually came up with 4 projects totaling $15 Million. Of those 4 projects we submitted, only 1 project, The Africatown Welcome Center, was approved.

The 5 states that received funds totaling about $3 Billion each because of the spill were: Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana & Texas. All the monies coming to Alabama was split evenly between Mobile and Baldwin Counties. Those counties are the only two counties in Alabama that touches the Gulf of Mexico. I consider monies allocated because of the BP Oil Spill “monies from God” because none of the monies received were from the government or from taxpayers.

The only 2 black entities that received any of those billions of dollars in Alabama were the Africatown Community and the City of Prichard. Alabama set up a panel of people to approve all projects to be funded thru the BP Funding process. That panel was made up of 99% white men. The only black person on the panel was not there to vote 100% of the time because The Mobile County Commission rotate their president position throughout the year and only the County Commission President could represent Mobile County on Alabama’s BP panel.

The Africatown Welcome Center Project was approved over 3 years ago; responsibility for it was handed over to the City of Mobile for construction. The $3.6 Million approved to construct The Africatown Welcome Center in The Africatown Community are currently being held by The U.S.Treasury Department waiting for The city of Mobile to submit a plan for the construction of the project. Once a plan for construction is submitted by The City of Mobile, it will be reviewed by The Treasury Department. Once the proposed plans for construction are approved, the funds will be released.

I am told that there is no expiration date for the Treasury Department funds. I have no knowledge as to what inflation or a recession will do to those funds. Africatown residents have been praying for a proper Welcome Center since the 1970s. Lets pray that those in charge of constructing the project will do it right and do it soon.

Current estimated completion date is 2023.

THE AFRICATOWN HERITAGE HOUSE – $600,000

Thanks to the leadership efforts of Mobile County Commissioner Mercia Ludgood, $600,000 has been approve to construct The Africatown Heritage House in Africatown. Total costs will be split between Mobile County and the City of Mobile. The Africatown Heritage House will be a permanent structure located on the north side of The Africatown Community Center. It will be a 5,000 square foot structure that will be a temporary place to house artifacts salvaged from Clotilda, the last known slave ship to the United States, with other Africatown artifacts, until The Africatown Welcome Center is constructed. The building will also contain office and meeting space.

Current estimated completion date is placed around middle to late 2021

DEMOCRATIC SENATOR DOUG JONES CONGRESSIONAL LED FUNDING – $500,000

Introduced by Alabama Democratic Senator Doug Jones and Republican Senator Richard Shelby, the U.S. Senate approved a bill that appropriated $500,000 towards the Clotilda and Africatown Community. The funds are being held by The African American History Museum in Washington, D.C..

The Fiscal Year 2020 appropriations bill included $500,000 for the Smithsonian Institution to support excavation, education, and community engagement around discovery of the Clotilda. The bill also expanded eligibility for Civil Rights grants under the Historic Preservation Fund to include recently discovered sites of the transatlantic slave trade, including the Clotilda.

EPA APPROVES AFRICATOWN’S BROWNFIELD ASSESSMENT GRANT – $300,000

Thanks to the efforts of Mobile City employee Ray Richardson, an environmental specialist, the EPA selected the City of Mobile for a Brownfield Assessment Grant earlier this year. The EPA’s Brownfield Program provides communities across the country with an opportunity to transform contaminated sites into community assets that attract jobs and achieve broader economic development outcomes, while taking advantage of existing infrastructure.

The community-wide grant funds will be used to conduct seven Phase I and seven Phase II environmental site assessments and develop six cleanup plans. Priority sites include the Josephine Allen 40-acre former multi-family housing complex, an area known as Clotilda Landing under the Africatown Bridge, and a place known as Lewis Landing on Conception Street.

Grant funds also will be used to conduct eight community meetings and develop and distribute fact sheets and other outreach materials to community members. Assessment activities will focus on the city’s historic Africatown community, which contains a Qualified Opportunity Zone.

AFRICATOWN-CHESS ENVIRONMENTAL JUSTICE GRANT FROM DSCEJ – $150,000

Founded by Dr. Beverly Wright and Dr. Robert Bullard, co-founders of the Environmental Justice Movement, the Deep South Center for Environmental Justice (DSCEJ) awarded a 5-year $150,000 grant to Africatown’s Clean, Healthy, Educated, Safe & Sustainable Community, Inc.. It is our belief that a CLEAN, HEALTHY, WELL-EDUCATED child will maintain a SAFE & SUSTAINABLE community.

(Africatown-C.H.E.S.S.) exists to assist Africatown in its efforts to protect and preserve its historic community from pollution and elimination by toxic and hazardous industries. Funds are for community organizing, frequent community meetings, information gathering, information distribution, community education, community gatherings to improve community moral, community planning as well as any efforts to prevent the loss of land and take over by local industry.

THE AFRICATOWN HERITAGE PRESERVATION FOUNDATION GRANT – $50,000

Led by founders Anderson Flen, Major Joe Womack, Ruth Ballard and other Africatown supporters, a request submitted to hire an administrator for The Africatown Heritage Preservation Foundation was approved by the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund.

The $50,000 grant will allow for a much needed administrator to oversee the various projects that are going on in Africatown and to carry out the vision of the Foundation, which is to eventually renovate Africatown to the point where it is an official African American Cultural Heritage Destination. The AHP Foundation will be the lead organization for all organizations in Africatown. It will have a salaried Executive Director and a well Diverse and Qualified Board of Directors.

The AHP Foundation will consist of the most professionally qualified group of people from organizations in Africatown. I will be one of them, having had major involvement in creating many Africatown or Africatown related organizations: The Africatown Heritage and Preservation Foundation; The Mobile County Training School Alumni Association; Africatown CHESS Community Organization; The Africatown Community and Development Corporation; and The Mobile Environmental Justice Action Coalition. Someone once said to me that Africatown has to many organizations to which my response is “we do not have enough, because we need all the help we can get.” (see the article here)

Africatown is the only community I have known where others come in and seem to say “take me to your leader/chief”. My response is always that Africatown is not a tribe of people with one person as a leader, we are a community with lots of leaders. Just read our Africatown Neighborhood Plan. It will tell you what the wants and needs of the people are. We are all leaders in our own way.

MOBILE ENVIRONMENTAL JUSTICE ACTION COALITION GRANT – $40,000

The Mobile Environmental Justice Action Coalition recently received an EPA grant in the amount of $40,000 to collect and distribute environmental data in Africatown and other under served communities in Mobile County.

Data that can be used to assist MEJAC in its efforts to serve Mobile County by eliminating harmful pollution, thus saving lives.

MOBILE COUNTY TRAINING SCHOOL RECEIVES $25,000 DONATION

Through fund-raising efforts led by President Anderson Flen, the Mobile County Training School Alumni Association (MCTSAA) donated over $25,000 to Africatown’s Middle School to upgrade and beautify its Courtyard by putting in covered concrete picnic tables and a beautiful 20 ft. electronic messaging board.

The $25,000 donation was raised over a 6 month period as MCTS Alumni, supporters & friends stepped to the plate and delivered when the call for financial donations was made by President Flen.

ALABAMA BI-CENTENNIAL COMMITTEE GRANT – $20,000

The Alabama Bi-Centennial Committee awarded a grant for  $20,000 to The Africatown Heritage and Preservation Foundation to assist in the upkeep of Africatown’s Historic Cemetery. The funds awarded will be used to purchase equipment to be used for the upkeep of the Cemetery and a place to store the equipment in. In addition, volunteers from the U.S. Navy have agreed to come to Africatown to help with frequent clean-up and maintenance of the cemetery once the COVID-19 pandemic is over. Currently, travel restrictions will not allow them to leave their bases.

ALABAMA HISTORICAL COMMISSION GRANT – $14,000

The Alabama Historical Commission awarded a grant in the amount of $14,000 to The Africatown-C.H.E.S.S. Community Organization to research and design plans to build a replica of the Cudjo Lewis House. Lewis became the most famous of the 110 captured Africans that was transported aboardthe Clotilda, and arrived in Mobile the night of July 8, 1860. For a long time, he was known as the last captured African to come over via the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade. He died in 1935 at the age of 95.
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It must also be noted that the Africatown Community should also receive an indirect financial benefit from the funding of $1 MILLION by the State of Alabama for the restoration and preservation of the last slave ship The Clotilda. That effort was led by The Alabama Historical Commission (see August article).

THE AFRICATOWN NEIGHBORHOOD PLAN

Thanks to The Africatown Neighborhood Plan, a paid with $50,000 from the Mobile City Council, the entire Africatown Community had a hand in developing an agreed-upon course of action; the plan has led to the ability to secure the various funding mentioned above. The Africatown Neighborhood Plan is working for our historic community. Like our elders would tell us when we were young, “when something works, don’t change a thing.”

 

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