MOBILE, Ala. (WKRG) — The first of several community input meetings getting feedback for the future Africatown Welcome Center took place Thursday, April 6 at the Robert Hope Community Center.
The Welcome Center will join the Africatown Heritage House Museum in showing the history of the community brought to this area on the last known illegal slave ship to come to America, the Clotilda.
Gary Autrey is a direct descendent of a formerly enslaved person who was on that ship. He told WKRG News 5, the welcome center is a project he and others have worked on for more than two decades.
Autrey said, “Oh, I like the amphitheater-style design because you can have multiple functions like plays or festivals. So I like that open-air feel. And the more people could come in, you know, not just drive through, but on special occasions.”
While there are not renderings yet, the design team showed examples of other museums across the country for inspiration. One of the ideas is a building in the shape of Clotilda, as a way to honor those who were forced onto the ship. Another idea incorporates a steel frame with designs cut out so that light can filter in through the figures. People at the meeting saw more than six different “mood board” filled with suggestions for their welcome center.
Yvette Chestang said, “I simply would like to see it be a true depiction of the culture of the people, their resiliency, their power.” She decided to go to the meeting because she said she wants the project to leave a lasting impression on those who visit the future welcome center.
“Having been to the motherland, been in these spaces where the slaves were held in the slave castles, walked through the door of no return. Those things stay with you. And I just would like to see some of those kinds of feelings to be depicted in what, you know, the outcome will be, the impact of what it meant,” said Chestang. She continued, “The opportunity for people to not just have a tour, but to be able to reflect on what they are taking in.”
“While you know the past is the past, it has such an important impact on how we live today, how we are interacting still today,” Chestang said; and she added that it’s one of the reasons why it’s so important for the welcome center to reflect Africatown’s history.
She said, “The voyage that they made here and all that they went through. It’s just scraping the bottom of the barrel in terms of the magnitude of what they did and who they were in the motherland.”
People at the meeting placed stickers on the design aspects they liked and wrote notes giving descriptions of the features they’d enjoy seeing in the final project.
Mobile Mayor Sandy Stimpson and District 2 City Councilman William Carroll attended the meeting and spoke to the public about the process. According to Mayor Stimpson, there’s about $6,000,000 available for the Africatown Welcome Center and the goal is to begin construction before the end of 2023.
After the design team collects the feedback from the April 6 meeting, they’ll craft potential designs and bring them back to the community at a second meeting. Then people will pick which design they like the best, and suggest any changes. Then at the third meeting, the community is expected to look at the design, nearly halfway complete at this point, and give feedback. By the fourth meeting, the design team hopes to show the community the final rendering of the Africatown Welcome Center.