AFRICATOWN’s Clotilda Descendants Festival Week – “The Memory Keeper”
As I stood listening to the two artists that created this sculpture, Charles Smith & Frank Ledbetter, talk about what their sculpture was designed to be, my mind journeyed to a long lost cave where anthropologists go inside and find writings and drawings on the wall that tell the history of a long lost people or language once everything is finally figured out by the anthropologists. The two artists, one black and the other white, became very emotional as they talked about the time they spent educating themselves about Africatown’s story and the voyage of the 110 souls enslaved on the Clotilda and brought to the shores of Mobile, Al.
THE MEMORY KEEPER sculpture is an homage to bronze and cast iron plaques that hung in West African Palaces hundreds of years ago. It is a four-panel stainless steel storyboard, with no designated first panel. Metalworking techniques make some elements appear gold in full sun. The artists used shapes and symbols in the sculpture purposely to represent the past, present and future of Africatown as it shares the story of the 110 enslaved West Africans and their descendants. The Memory Keeper has no front or back, no beginning or end. The point at which each viewer approaches the sculpture is the point at which his or her interpretation should begin.
The Memory Keeper sculpture has a height of 9 feet, it is 2 feet 8 inches wide and has a depth of 1 foot 4 inches. It is constructed of welded stainless steel and textured with welding , heated to achieve a bronze color. It is located in The Memorial Gardens on the grounds of THE AFRICATOWN HERITAGE HOUSE at 2465 Winbush Street in Africatown. Both The Memory Keeper and The Africatown Heritage House are Commissioned by Mobile County Commissioner for District 1, Merceria Ludgood.
Visit Mobile sent out a press release to national media outlets to share all that has just happened and to spread the word that the Africatown Heritage House with the “Clotilda: The Exhibition” will be opening July 8, 2023, in correlation with the anniversary of “The Landing” of the schooner in Mobile, AL in 1860. Africatown will officially declare that The Africatown Community is “Open For Business” on July 8, 2023 as the community will coincide its opening with the grand opening of “The Africatown Heritage House Museum.
The unveiling of the sculpture “Memory Keeper”, integrated into the Spirit of our Ancestors Festival throughout the week, culminating in the play “Ocean in my Bones”, has reinforced the importance of continuing to share this story with the world. The Clotilda Association must be congratulated as each venue during the 5 days of events were filled with people. Wednesday thru Friday Africatown’s Descendant Documentary was shown at the Mobile & Toulminville Library and Prichard’s City Hall where bus loads of School children showed up to watch the award winning documentary while The MCTS school Gym was packed with people on Saturday and Sunday to see Africatown’s Play “Ocean in my bones”.
The 5 day Clotilda Descendants Festival marked the first time an Africatown organization has taken strives toward our Africatown goal of creating multi day events that are designed to bring crowds to both Downtown as well as Africatown in a way that uplifts tourism and the economy of Africatown as well as Downtown Mobile so that both areas of Mobile will prosper from our Africatown experience thus fulfilling our vision of making Africatown a Cultural Heritage Destination for Tourism.