Artist Theaster Gates at the Hirshhorn Museum

Internationally recognized artist Theaster Gates, whose work embraces the plastic arts, performance, archives and the built environment, was in town for a presentation at the Hirshhorn Museum in honor of the opening of the new Museum of African American History and Culture.

September 14, 2016 - Artist Theaster Gates and his associates the Black Monks of Mississippi performed at the Hirshhorn Museum in advance of Gates' presentation at the museum later that night in honor of the opening of the new Museum of African American History and Culture. Susana Raab/Anacostia Community Museum/Smithsonian Institution

Artist Theaster Gates performs at the Hirshhorn Museum for ArtLab students September 14, 2016.

He kindly agreed to a performance for the Hirshhorn’s ArtLab students and featuring his colleagues the Black Monks of Mississippi and members of the Howard University track team.  The performance was entirely improvised in the moment.

After the performance Gates and his colleagues convened in the ArtLab to discuss creativity, collegiality and process.  Members of the Anacostia Community Museum’s Youth Advisory Board were on hand to experience this opportunity to be inspired by a living artist working on creative placemaking in the same community in which he grew up and lives today.

September 14, 2016 - A Howard University track athlete is part of the performance of artist Theaster Gates and his associates the Black Monks of Mississippi who presented at the Hirshhorn Museum in advance of Gates' presentation at the museum later that night in honor of the opening of the new Museum of African American History and Culture. Susana Raab/Anacostia Community Museum/Smithsonian Institution

A Howard University track athlete is part of the performance of artist Theaster Gates and his associates the Black Monks of Mississippi who presented at the Hirshhorn Museum in advance of Gates’ presentation at the museum later that night in honor of the opening of the new Museum of African American History and Culture.

September 14, 2016 - Hirshhorn Museum Museum and Sculpture Garden Director Melissa Chiu (center) chats with Anacostia Community Museum Board Chair Bennie Johnson and Anacostia Community Museum Director Lori Yarrish prior to a presentation by the artist Theaster Gates. Susana Raab/Anacostia Community Museum/Smithsonian Institution

Hirshhorn Museum Museum and Sculpture Garden Director Melissa Chiu (center) chats with Anacostia Community Museum Board Chair Bennie Johnson left, and Anacostia Community Museum Director Lori Parrish, right, prior to a presentation by the artist Theaster Gates.

September 14, 2016 - Local students listen to artist Theaster Gates talk about his work. He and his associates the Black Monks of Mississippi performed at the Hirshhorn Museum in advance of Gates' presentation at the museum later that night in honor of the opening of the new Museum of African American History and Culture. Susana Raab/Anacostia Community Museum/Smithsonian Institution

Local students listen to artist Theaster Gates talk about his work. 

September 14, 2016 - Artist Theaster Gates associates the Black Monks of Mississippi performed at the Hirshhorn Museum in advance of Gates' presentation at the museum later that night in honor of the opening of the new Museum of African American History and Culture. Susana Raab/Anacostia Community Museum/Smithsonian Institution

Theaster Gates’ associates, the Black Monks of Mississippi, speak before the students of the Hirshhorn Museum’s ArtLab.

September 14, 2016 - A student from Thurgood Marshall Academy in southeast Washington shows her artwork to artist Theaster Gates. He and his associates the Black Monks of Mississippi performed at the Hirshhorn Museum in advance of Gates' presentation at the museum later that night in honor of the opening of the new Museum of African American History and Culture. Susana Raab/Anacostia Community Museum/Smithsonian Institution

A student from Thurgood Marshall Academy in southeast Washington shows her artwork to artist Theaster Gates.

Women Photographers of Washington Presentation at the Anacostia Community Museum

The Anacostia Community Museum seeks to be a gathering place for important conversations pertaining to urban communities. We devise our public programming and community forums with this goal in mind.  This Sunday, September 18, we were pleased to present the work of two local photographers, Becky Harlan and Gabriela Bulisova, both members of the 501C3 non-profit, Women Photojournalists of Washington.  Harlan and Bulisova have both been working for many years on the projects they presented.

Women Photojournalist of Washington member Becky Harlan presents her work on the Anacostia River to a full house at the Anacostia Community Museum on Sunday September 18, 2016.

WPOW Member Becky Harlan shares work from her project on the Anacostia River.

Harlan’s project “D.C.’s Anacostia River” looks at the history of the Anacostia, from fertile native American fishing ground, to its status as a polluted river, the river keepers who take it upon themselves to maintain a better tributary, and the communities that have formed around the river. Below is a frame taken from her project, more work can be seen on her website here:

Photographer Becky Harlan's work on the Anacostia River. Here a clean-up crew at Kennilworth Aquatic Gardens.

Photographer Becky Harlan’s work on the Anacostia River. Here a clean-up crew at Kennilworth Aquatic Gardens.

Gabriela Bulisova’s work Inside Outside and Convictions examines the lives of returning citizens, the formerly incarcerated, and the families left behind.  According to the International Center for Prison Studies, the United States has the largest percentage of incarcerated people in its population in the world.  Bulisova spent time getting to know returning citizen groups and the families of the incarcerated, making still photographs and short movies to record their experiences.  She shared with us several short films which are accessible below and by going to Bulisova’s website here.

Photographer Gabriela Bulisova shares her work on returning citizens in Washington, DC at the Anacostia Community Museum Sunday September 18, 2016.

The discussion following the presentations was informed by the presence of several of the returning citizens with whom Bulisova has worked on her projects.  They spoke to the administrative limbo many incarcerated DC citizens find themselves in because they are beholden to the laws of the federal system, even as in many states, sentences for many crimes, especially non-violent ones are being commuted or cut short.  Because DC is not a state, prisoners find themselves trapped in a federal purgatory where  they are literally stateless citizens.

The opportunity to hear an artist discuss her work will always further your understanding of the project.  We are pleased at the Anacostia Community Museum to bring these conversations to you and hope you will join us in adding your voice to our community.

Summer Mornings of Fun at the Anacostia Community Museum

This summer from July 5- July 29, Anacostia Community Museum held a series of free arts-integrated half-day programs for seven to ten year old children in the community. The students took part in daily yoga classes, science-based nature tours of the George Washington Carver Trail, art-making, swimming and field trips to the Smithsonian Folklife Festival and the Smithsonian Natural History Museum’s IMAX theatre.
Performance

Summer Academy program ended for the season on July 29 with a series of poetic performances created by the students and special guests for their families and the community. Summer Academy students worked with educators Johari Griffith, Obika Griffith and Cheryl Rider to create a protest poem entitled Revolution inspired by the music of Beyoncé and fueled by the theme of protest featured in the exhibition the Twelve Years That Shook and Shaped Washington (1963-1975). The performance was choreographed by the Summer Academy’s artist-in-residence Erica Chamblee, actress, dancer and visual artist.

After the performance in the museum, the program concluded on the park grounds of the museum with special guests, Dr. Ray Charles Lockamy, of the Cherokee Nation, and his horse Wind Walker provided to the program by ACM Security Chief Lt. Marvin Dorsey. Dr. Lockamy taught the children about caring for horses, the particular importance of getting a good education and staying in school for African Americans. Students even got a chance to ride Wind Walker and for many of them this was their first time riding a horse. DC Retro Jumpers ended the day with free 60s-style double-dutch lessons for all the children and their families.
Parents were all pleased with the summer programs at the museum and replied the children really enjoyed the program. Thank You. A special thank you goes out to Sarah Turner for creating this video documentary of the Summer Academy Community Open House.

Anacostia Community Museum Academy Performance this Friday July 29, 2016

The Anacostia Community Museum would like to invite you to an end of summer performance by our Museum Academy. I stopped by rehearsal today and got a sneak preview of what you can expect to see:

 

 

Please join us!

July 29, 2016 from 10-12:30

at the Anacostia Community Museum Program Room

1901 Fort Place SE, Washington, DC 20020

As always there is free parking!

The Anacostia Community Museum Academy Summer Practice: Yoga

Designed to enhance reading, research skills, creative ability, and social and intellectual development, the Museum Academy is a cultural arts enrichment program for youth ages seven to eleven in collaboration with schools in the southeast neighborhoods of Washington, DC.  I was delighted to stroll through our gallery and program room and find the students engaged in yoga practice this week, during the school year the Museum Academy is located in our partner schools.  This summer has offered a nice change as our students are coming to the museum on a daily basis to attend our program and they offer me a good reminder to get on the mat.

July 17, 2016 - Members of the Museum Academy practice yoga in the Anacostia Community Museum program room during summer break. Susana Raab/Anacostia Community Museum/Smithsonian Institution

July 17, 2016 – Members of the Museum Academy practice yoga in the Anacostia Community Museum program room during summer break.
Susana Raab/Anacostia Community Museum/Smithsonian Institution

July 17, 2016 - Members of the Museum Academy practice yoga in the Anacostia Community Museum program room during summer break. Susana Raab/Anacostia Community Museum/Smithsonian Institution

July 17, 2016 – Members of the Museum Academy practice yoga in the Anacostia Community Museum program room during summer break.
Susana Raab/Anacostia Community Museum/Smithsonian Institution

July 17, 2016 - Members of the Museum Academy practice yoga in the Anacostia Community Museum program room during summer break. Susana Raab/Anacostia Community Museum/Smithsonian Institution

July 17, 2016 – Members of the Museum Academy practice yoga in the Anacostia Community Museum program room during summer break.
Susana Raab/Anacostia Community Museum/Smithsonian Institution

July 17, 2016 - Members of the Museum Academy practice yoga in the Anacostia Community Museum program room during summer break. Susana Raab/Anacostia Community Museum/Smithsonian Institution

July 17, 2016 – Members of the Museum Academy practice yoga in the Anacostia Community Museum program room during summer break.
Susana Raab/Anacostia Community Museum/Smithsonian Institution

July 17, 2016 - Members of the Museum Academy practice yoga in the Anacostia Community Museum program room during summer break. Susana Raab/Anacostia Community Museum/Smithsonian Institution

July 17, 2016 – Members of the Museum Academy practice yoga in the Anacostia Community Museum program room during summer break.
Susana Raab/Anacostia Community Museum/Smithsonian Institution

July 17, 2016 - Members of the Museum Academy practice yoga in the Anacostia Community Museum program room during summer break. Susana Raab/Anacostia Community Museum/Smithsonian Institution

July 17, 2016 – Members of the Museum Academy practice yoga in the Anacostia Community Museum program room during summer break.
Susana Raab/Anacostia Community Museum/Smithsonian Institution

East of the River Artist Amber Robles Gordon

Artist Amber Robles Gordon creates art from recycled materials and fiber. She sat down with the Anacostia Community Museum to discuss her practice and craft.

Urban Waterways Research Trip: Bayou la Batre, Alabama

December 12, 2015 - Coden, Alabama - Paul Nelson with friends and supporters at the site of his former oyster processing plant which was wiped out during Hurricane Katrina. Susana Raab/Anacostia Community Museum/Smithsonian Institution

December 12, 2015 – Coden, Alabama – Paul Nelson with friends and supporters at the site of his former oyster processing plant which was wiped out during Hurricane Katrina.
Susana Raab/Anacostia Community Museum/Smithsonian Institution.

The last stop on our Gulf Coast tour was the historic town of Bayou La Batre, made famous by the movie Forrest Gump.  Here local activist and former 3rd generation shrimper Paul Nelson leads efforts to improve services for the town which was devastated by Hurricane Katrina when the highest storm surge ever recorded in the area (16 ft), and then again by the BP oil spill, 5 years later.

Mr. Nelson had a prosperous oyster business back in 2005, and a processing plant, the foundation of which is pictured below.  No stranger to rebuilding a business, Mr. Nelson restarted his fishing business as a younger man after another disaster, but says of this time, “I am too old to begin again.” Now, the foundation of his oyster processing plant is a home to an RV and trailer, which provide permanent housing for Mr. Nelson’s relatives, 10 years after Katrina first made shore.

December 12, 2015 - Coden, Alabama - The concrete foundation is all that remains of fisherman Paul Nelson's oyster processing plant which was wiped out during Hurricane Katrina. Susana Raab/Anacostia Community Museum/Smithsonian Institution

December 12, 2015 – Coden, Alabama – The concrete foundation is all that remains of fisherman Paul Nelson’s oyster processing plant which was wiped out during Hurricane Katrina.
Susana Raab/Anacostia Community Museum/Smithsonian Institution

December 12, 2015 - Coden, Alabama - Paul Nelson gives a tour of Coden and Bayou La Batre, Alabama which was devastated by both Hurricane Katrina and the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Susana Raab/Anacostia Community Museum/Smithsonian Institution

December 12, 2015 – Coden, Alabama – Paul Nelson gives a tour of Coden and Bayou La Batre, Alabama which was devastated by both Hurricane Katrina and the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
Susana Raab/Anacostia Community Museum/Smithsonian Institution

December 12, 2015 - Coden, Alabama - Paul Nelson gives a tour of Coden and Bayou La Batre, Alabama which was devastated by both Hurricane Katrina and the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Susana Raab/Anacostia Community Museum/Smithsonian Institution

December 12, 2015 – Coden, Alabama – Paul Nelson gives a tour of Coden and Bayou La Batre, Alabama, showing us a new waste treatment plant that the local government had built.
Susana Raab/Anacostia Community Museum/Smithsonian Institution

December 12, 2015 - Coden, Alabama - Paul Nelson gives a tour of Coden and Bayou La Batre, Alabama which was devastated by both Hurricane Katrina and the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Susana Raab/Anacostia Community Museum/Smithsonian Institution

December 12, 2015 – Coden, Alabama – The Gulf Coast shoreline of Bayou La Batre, where vacation homes were rebuilt following Hurricane Katrina.
Susana Raab/Anacostia Community Museum/Smithsonian Institution

December 12, 2015 - Coden, Alabama - Paul Nelson gives a tour of Coden and Bayou La Batre, Alabama which was devastated by both Hurricane Katrina and the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Susana Raab/Anacostia Community Museum/Smithsonian Institution

December 12, 2015 – Coden, Alabama – An ante-bellum home which was rebuilt after Hurricane Katrina destroyed it is situated on the Gulf Coast road in Bayou La Batre.
Susana Raab/Anacostia Community Museum/Smithsonian Institution

December 12, 2015 - Coden, Alabama - A home abandoned since Hurricane Katrina. Susana Raab/Anacostia Community Museum/Smithsonian Institution

December 12, 2015 – Coden, Alabama – A home abandoned since Hurricane Katrina.
Susana Raab/Anacostia Community Museum/Smithsonian Institution

We stopped at the local cemetery, where Mr. Nelson’s own stepson is buried. He died at the age of 28 of an unknown health issue.  Mr. Nelson has been active in advocating for the disbursement of Katrina/BP funds to help with the health issues he reports all around the Bayou La Batre – Coden communities.  He has written passionately on behalf of his family and neighbors, detailing the continuing travails in the community.  In a December 2010 letter submitted to ehumanrights.org, he writes:

Coden has never seen so many people pass away in such a short time. My neighbor Delaphine Barber, age 75 lost her home and died from a heart attack about a year after Katrina. Other neighbors who died, trying to survive in the [formaldehyde emitting] FEMA campers, and hoping to see their homes rebuilt were: Sally Dismukes, age 72, died of a heart attack; Tommy Barbour age 56, died of lung cancer; Michael Goleman, age 36 father of two teenage daughters, suicide; Shirley Clark, age 65, complications from a staph infection; Randy Hall, age 45, lung cancer; Nancy Maples, age 57. Most have spouses or children who are still hoping to see their family homes rebuilt. My mother Hilda Nelson died after living in a FEMA camper over a year and hoping for assistance to rebuild the family that never came…

December 12, 2015 - Coden, Alabama - The cemetery serving Coden and Bayou La Batre Alabama. Susana Raab/Anacostia Community Museum/Smithsonian Institution

December 12, 2015 – Coden, Alabama – The grave of Mr. Kevin Dewayne Craft, Mr. Nelson’s stepson, who died of an unknown health ailment in 2013 at the age of 28.
Susana Raab/Anacostia Community Museum/Smithsonian Institution

Mr. Nelson locates many of the community’s health problems to after an oil dispersant was sprayed over the Gulf Coast shores in the aftermath of the BP oil spill. The dispersant was meant to put the oil on top of the water at the bottom of the ocean.

Today Mr. Nelson continues to advocate on behalf of his beloved Bayou La Batre.  The first day we went to see him Mr. Nelson never showed up.  He was in the hospital dealing with complications from diabetes and blood clots.  Despite his illness, Mr. Nelson insisted we come back the next day, finishing the tour in his modest pre-fabricated home, where Urban Waterways researcher interviewed him for several hours.

December 12, 2015 - Coden, Alabama - Local activist Paul Nelson gives an interview in the trailer that serves as his home after his home was destroyed in Hurricane Katrina. Susana Raab/Anacostia Community Museum/Smithsonian Institution

December 12, 2015 – Coden, Alabama – Local activist Paul Nelson gives an interview in the trailer that serves as his home after his home was destroyed in Hurricane Katrina.
Susana Raab/Anacostia Community Museum/Smithsonian Institution

December 12, 2015 - Coden, Alabama - A vignette in the home of Paul Nelson. Susana Raab/Anacostia Community Museum/Smithsonian Institution

December 12, 2015 – Coden, Alabama – A vignette in the home of Paul Nelson.
Susana Raab/Anacostia Community Museum/Smithsonian Institution

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The Gulf Coast seen from Bayou La Batre, the setting for the movie, Forrest Gump. Photo by Susana Raab/Anacostia Museum/Smithsonian Institution

All the interviews and audio we collected our available by making an appointment with the Anacostia Community Museum Archives.  We encourage you to visit our archives and use our research for your own studies.

 

 

 

Urban Waterways Research Project: Africatown, Alabama Part Two

Oluale Kossol, known as Kudjoe Lewis, last surving member of the slave-ship Clothilde, and Africatown, Alabama resident.

Unaware I was at the time, but in making our research trip to Africatown, we were following in the footsteps of acclaimed writer and folklorist Zora Neale Hurston who visited in 1928 in order to interview the last remaining formerly enslaved man in America, Africatown resident Cudjoe Lewis. Originally born in what is now Benin, Cudjoe Lewis was born Oluale Kossola and captured in his early twenties to be part of the cargo of the Clothilde, the last ship to transport captured Africans to the United States.

December 8, 2015 - Joe Womack of Africatown, Alabama. Photo by Susana Raab/Anacostia Community Museum/Smithsonian Institution

December 8, 2015 – Joe Womack of Africatown, Alabama.
Photo by Susana Raab/Anacostia Community Museum/Smithsonian Institution

You can read more about the lives of the passengers of the Clothilde in the book by author Sylviane Anna Diouf, Dreams of Africa in Alabama. Today, the descendants of Africatowns original settlers are some of the few African Americans who can trace their lineage back to Africa.

Urban Waterways researcher Katrina Lashley and I met with Joe Womack, a local activist in the Africatown community at the old Mobile County Training School, the local high school, where the Africatown historical collection is housed in a cinderblock building used for events called, “The Den.”  There the community works to preserve their history and maintain their community, while protecting it from ongoing environmental concerns.

The various displays preserving Africatown’s history, lineage, an individuals are testament to the pride this community takes in sharing their heritage, and the tenuousness with which they have been supported in their efforts to preserve this historical village.

 

December 11, 2015 - The Mobile County Training School in Africatown, Alabama. Photo by Susana Raab/Anacostia Community Museum/Smithsonian Institution

December 11, 2015 – The Mobile County Training School in Africatown, Alabama. This is the local high school of Africatown.
Photo by Susana Raab/Anacostia Community Museum/Smithsonian Institution

December 11, 2015 - The Mobile County Training School in Africatown, Alabama. Photo by Susana Raab/Anacostia Community Museum/Smithsonian Institution

December 11, 2015 – The Mobile County Training School in Africatown, Alabama.
Photo by Susana Raab/Anacostia Community Museum/Smithsonian Institution

December 11, 2015 - A historical exhibit in Africatown near Mobile, Alabama. Photo by Susana Raab/Anacostia Community Museum/Smithsonian Institution

December 11, 2015 – A historical exhibit in Africatown near Mobile, Alabama.
Photo by Susana Raab/Anacostia Community Museum/Smithsonian Institution

December 11, 2015 - A historical exhibit in Africatown near Mobile, Alabama. Photo by Susana Raab/Anacostia Community Museum/Smithsonian Institution

December 11, 2015 – The MCTS Class of 1969.
Photo by Susana Raab/Anacostia Community Museum/Smithsonian Institution

December 11, 2015 - A historical exhibit in Africatown near Mobile, Alabama. Photo by Susana Raab/Anacostia Community Museum/Smithsonian Institution

December 11, 2015 – A memorial to William Clark, community servant of Africatown. Mr. Clark served 26 years in the Alabama House of Representatives in the district that serves Africatown.
Photo by Susana Raab/Anacostia Community Museum/Smithsonian Institution

December 11, 2015 - A historical exhibit in Africatown near Mobile, Alabama. Photo by Susana Raab/Anacostia Community Museum/Smithsonian Institution

December 11, 2015 – The Class of 1958.
Photo by Susana Raab/Anacostia Community Museum/Smithsonian Institution

December 11, 2015 - A historical exhibit in Africatown near Mobile, Alabama. Photo by Susana Raab/Anacostia Community Museum/Smithsonian Institution

December 11, 2015 – Commemorating Heritage Day in the Africatown neighborhood of Lewis Quarters, a historically significant subdivsion, now cut off from the rest of Africatown by lumber mills.
Photo by Susana Raab/Anacostia Community Museum/Smithsonian Institution

December 8, 2015 - Mary Louise Moorer of Africatown, Alabama. Photo by Susana Raab/Anacostia Community Museum/Smithsonian Institution

December 8, 2015 – Mary Louise Moorer of Africatown, Alabama.
Photo by Susana Raab/Anacostia Community Museum/Smithsonian Institution

After we interviewed and recorded several residents stories, including Mary Louise Moorer, pictured above, Mr. Womack gave us a tour of the greater Africatown environs.  The first stop was the large community garden that Africatown residents use for sustenance.

December 11, 2015 - Homes in Africatown, Alabama. Photo by Susana Raab/Anacostia Community Museum/Smithsonian Institution

December 11, 2015 – Homes in Africatown, Alabama.
Photo by Susana Raab/Anacostia Community Museum/Smithsonian Institution

 

December 11, 2015 - The community garden in Africatown, Alabama grows collard greens, sugarcane, and other produce for local residents. Photo by Susana Raab/Anacostia Community Museum/Smithsonian Institution

December 11, 2015 – The community garden in Africatown, Alabama grows collard greens, sugarcane, and other produce for local residents.
Photo by Susana Raab/Anacostia Community Museum/Smithsonian Institution

December 11, 2015 - The community garden in Africatown, Alabama grows collard greens, sugarcane, and other produce for local residents. Photo by Susana Raab/Anacostia Community Museum/Smithsonian Institution

December 11, 2015 – The community garden in Africatown, Alabama grows collard greens, sugarcane, and other produce for local residents.
Photo by Susana Raab/Anacostia Community Museum/Smithsonian Institution

December 11, 2015 - Joe Womack of Africatown, Alabama, tours the neighborhood. Photo by Susana Raab/Anacostia Community Museum/Smithsonian Institution

December 11, 2015 – Joe Womack of Africatown, Alabama, tours the neighborhood.
Photo by Susana Raab/Anacostia Community Museum/Smithsonian Institution

Nearly every waterway appeared to be flanked by industry: Scott Paper, tank farms, Plank Marketing’s storage tanks holding environmental waste imported from Canada line the shores of the Mobile River near Magazine Point, a part of Africatown.  These original tracts of Africatown have been cut off from each other by development, as in the case of the neighborhood of Lewis Quarters.  And Africatown is not alone.  Uniting with environmental and social justice activists along the coast, Africatown is sharing stories through outlets like Bridge the Gulf, and building awareness for their precarious existence not far from the shores of the Mobile River.

December 11, 2015 -Homes in Africatown, Alabama. Photo by Susana Raab/Anacostia Community Museum/Smithsonian Institution

December 11, 2015 -Homes in Africatown, Alabama.
Photo by Susana Raab/Anacostia Community Museum/Smithsonian Institution

December 11, 2015 - The Mobile County Training School garden in Africatown, Alabama. Photo by Susana Raab/Anacostia Community Museum/Smithsonian Institution

December 11, 2015 – The Mobile County Training School garden in Africatown, Alabama.
Photo by Susana Raab/Anacostia Community Museum/Smithsonian Institution

December 11, 2015 - The Cochrane Africatown USA Bridge. Photo by Susana Raab/Anacostia Community Museum/Smithsonian Institution

December 11, 2015 – The Cochrane Africatown USA Bridge, rebuilt to span 2 miles, bifurcates the historic Magazine Point neighborhood of Africatown, which was named after the Civil War munitions storage facility that exploded on that site.
Photo by Susana Raab/Anacostia Community Museum/Smithsonian Institution

December 11, 2015 - A tour of the Africatown, Alabama environs which is surrounded by industrial plants. Photo by Susana Raab/Anacostia Community Museum/Smithsonian Institution

December 11, 2015 – The Africatown Bridge, spans two miles, and is flanked by the Mobile River, container farms and industrial plants. 
Photo by Susana Raab/Anacostia Community Museum/Smithsonian Institution

December 11, 2015 - Containers and cargo line the shoreline of the Mobile River near Africatown, Alabama. Photo by Susana Raab/Anacostia Community Museum/Smithsonian Institution Photo by Susana Raab/Anacostia Community Museum/Smithsonian Institution

December 11, 2015 – Containers and cargo line the shoreline of the Mobile River near Africatown, Alabama.
Photo by Susana Raab/Anacostia Community Museum/Smithsonian Institution

December 11, 2015 - A tour of the Africatown, Alabama environs which is surrounded by industrial plants. Photo by Susana Raab/Anacostia Community Museum/Smithsonian Institution

December 11, 2015 – The entrance to Lewis Quarters.
Photo by Susana Raab/Anacostia Community Museum/Smithsonian Institution

The entrance of Lewis Quarters, built by the descendants of Cudjoe Lewis, is cut off from the rest of Africatown by a meat packing plant and lumber mill, which cause environmental degradation to the immediate environs.

December 11, 2015 - A tour of the Africatown, Alabama environs which is surrounded by industrial plants. Photo by Susana Raab/Anacostia Community Museum/Smithsonian Institution

December 11, 2015 – Lewis Quarters today.
Photo by Susana Raab/Anacostia Community Museum/Smithsonian Institution

 

December 11, 2015 - A tour of the Africatown, Alabama environs which is surrounded by industrial plants. Photo by Susana Raab/Anacostia Community Museum/Smithsonian Institution

December 11, 2015 – Three Mile River, near Lewis Quarters, a tributary to the Mobile River.
Photo by Susana Raab/Anacostia Community Museum/Smithsonian Institution

December 11, 2015 -Homes in Africatown, Alabama. Photo by Susana Raab/Anacostia Community Museum/Smithsonian Institution

December 11, 2015 -Homes in Africatown, Alabama.
Photo by Susana Raab/Anacostia Community Museum/Smithsonian Institution

This is just a brief overview of the historic community of Africatown, Alabama, a Gulf Coast community struggling to preserve itself while facing the challenges of industry, development, politics and resources.

Anacostia Museum Academy: Black History Month Celebration Event

February 29, 2016 - The Savoy Players during their performance in a Black History Month event at Savoy Elementary in SE Washington, DC. Susana Raab/Anacostia Community Museum/Smithsonian Institution

February 29, 2016 – The Savoy Players during their performance in a Black History Month event at Savoy Elementary in SE Washington, DC.
Susana Raab/Anacostia Community Museum/Smithsonian Institution

This year in honor of Black History month students at Savoy Elementary got together to create a Black History Month program which featured a variety of developing talents in dance, word, writing, yoga, and stilt-walking. The Anacostia Community Museum Academy is based out of Savoy Elementary and the program featured a number of Museum Academy students.

February 29, 2016 - The Savoy Players during their performance in a Black History Month event at Savoy Elementary in SE Washington, DC. Susana Raab/Anacostia Community Museum/Smithsonian Institution

February 29, 2016 – The Savoy Players during their performance in a Black History Month event at Savoy Elementary in SE Washington, DC.
Susana Raab/Anacostia Community Museum/Smithsonian Institution

February 29, 2016 - Linda Maxwell of the Anacostia Community Museum Academy makes opening remarks at a Black History Month event at Savoy Elementary in SE Washington, DC. Susana Raab/Anacostia Community Museum/Smithsonian Institution

Linda Maxwell of the Anacostia Community Museum Academy makes opening remarks at a Black History Month event at Savoy Elementary in SE Washington, DC.
Susana Raab/Anacostia Community Museum/Smithsonian Institution

February 29, 2016 - The Savoy Players during their performance in a Black History Month event at Savoy Elementary in SE Washington, DC. Susana Raab/Anacostia Community Museum/Smithsonian Institution

February 29, 2016 – The Savoy Players during their performance in a Black History Month event at Savoy Elementary in SE Washington, DC.
Susana Raab/Anacostia Community Museum/Smithsonian Institution

 

February 29, 2016 - The Savoy Players during their performance in a Black History Month event at Savoy Elementary in SE Washington, DC. Susana Raab/Anacostia Community Museum/Smithsonian Institution

February 29, 2016 – The Savoy Players during their performance in a Black History Month event at Savoy Elementary in SE Washington, DC.
Susana Raab/Anacostia Community Museum/Smithsonian Institution

February 29, 2016 - Members of the Anacostia Community Museum Academy recite poetry during a performance in a Black History Month event at Savoy Elementary in SE Washington, DC. Susana Raab/Anacostia Community Museum/Smithsonian Institution

February 29, 2016 – Members of the Anacostia Community Museum Academy recite poetry during a performance in a Black History Month event at Savoy Elementary in SE Washington, DC.
Susana Raab/Anacostia Community Museum/Smithsonian Institution

February 29, 2016 - Members of the Anacostia Community Museum Academy recite poetry during a performance in a Black History Month event at Savoy Elementary in SE Washington, DC. Susana Raab/Anacostia Community Museum/Smithsonian Institution

February 29, 2016 – Members of the Anacostia Community Museum Academy recite poetry during a performance in a Black History Month event at Savoy Elementary in SE Washington, DC.
Susana Raab/Anacostia Community Museum/Smithsonian Institution

February 29, 2016 - Members of the Anacostia Community Museum Academy during a yoga demonstration at a Black History Month event at Savoy Elementary in SE Washington, DC. Susana Raab/Anacostia Community Museum/Smithsonian InstitutionFebruary 29, 2016 – Members of the Anacostia Community Museum Academy during a yoga demonstration at a Black History Month event at Savoy Elementary in SE Washington, DC.
Susana Raab/Anacostia Community Museum/Smithsonian Institution

February 29, 2016 - Members of the Anacostia Community Museum Academy during a yoga demonstration at a Black History Month event at Savoy Elementary in SE Washington, DC. Susana Raab/Anacostia Community Museum/Smithsonian Institution

February 29, 2016 – Members of the Anacostia Community Museum Academy during a yoga demonstration at a Black History Month event at Savoy Elementary in SE Washington, DC.
Susana Raab/Anacostia Community Museum/Smithsonian Institution

February 29, 2016 - Members of the Anacostia Community Museum Academy during a yoga demonstration at a Black History Month event at Savoy Elementary in SE Washington, DC. Susana Raab/Anacostia Community Museum/Smithsonian Institution

February 29, 2016 – Members of the Anacostia Community Museum Academy during a yoga demonstration at a Black History Month event at Savoy Elementary in SE Washington, DC.
Susana Raab/Anacostia Community Museum/Smithsonian Institution

February 29, 2016 - Members of the Anacostia Community Museum Academy perform on stilts during a Black History Month event at Savoy Elementary in SE Washington, DC. Susana Raab/Anacostia Community Museum/Smithsonian Institution

February 29, 2016 – Members of the Anacostia Community Museum Academy perform on stilts during a Black History Month event at Savoy Elementary in SE Washington, DC.
Susana Raab/Anacostia Community Museum/Smithsonian Institution

February 29, 2016 - The Savoy Players during their performance in a Black History Month event at Savoy Elementary in SE Washington, DC. Susana Raab/Anacostia Community Museum/Smithsonian Institution

February 29, 2016 – Mrs. Carol Foster rallies her Savoy Players during their performance in a Black History Month event at Savoy Elementary in SE Washington, DC.
Susana Raab/Anacostia Community Museum/Smithsonian Institution

Urban Waterways Research Project: Africatown, Alabama Part One

December 11, 2015 - A historical exhibit in Africatown near Mobile, Alabama. Photo by Susana Raab/Anacostia Community Museum/Smithsonian Institution

December 11, 2015 – A historical exhibit in Africatown near Mobile, Alabama.
Photo by Susana Raab/Anacostia Community Museum/Smithsonian Institution

Africatown, Alabama was the location of our penultimate stop along the Gulf Coast for this segment of the Urban Waterways Research Project .  Africatown, which is also known as AfricaTown USA or Plateau, is located just 3 miles north of downtown Mobile.  The origin story of Africatown is inexorably tied to the story of slavery in the U.S.  The slave trade had been outlawed in the US in 1808.  Just prior to the beginning of the Civil War, a group of wealthy southern landowners  wagered a bet that they could defy federal law and import a boat of slaves undetected into the US.  Timothy Meaher, a Mobile businessman, financed the last known ship of enslaved Africans, the Clothilde, to Alabama after betting an alleged $100,000 that he would do so undetected.

December 11, 2015 - A marker commemorates the name of the slaveholder Meaher in Africatown, Alabama. Photo by Susana Raab/Anacostia Community Museum/Smithsonian Institution

December 11, 2015 – A marker commemorates the name of  Meaher in Africatown, Alabama.
Photo by Susana Raab/Anacostia Community Museum/Smithsonian Institution

Meaher lost his bet, but avoided conviction, likely because of the start of the Civil War.  The majority of the slaves stayed in the area, first as slaves owned by investors in Meaher’s folly, and later as a free people following the outcome of the Civil War.

December 11, 2015 - The only remaining remnant of former slaves homes is a chimney in Africatown, Alabama. Photo by Susana Raab/Anacostia Community Museum/Smithsonian Institution

December 11, 2015 – The only remaining remnant of former slaves homes is a chimney in Africatown, Alabama.
Photo by Susana Raab/Anacostia Community Museum/Smithsonian Institution

They settled on Meaher’s land, designing a community very much like that of their West African homeland, retaining their language, traditions and culture well into the 21st century.

December 11, 2015 - A tour of the Africatown, Alabama environs which is surrounded by industrial plants. Photo by Susana Raab/Anacostia Community Museum/Smithsonian Institution

December 11, 2015 – Magazine Point, the site where the passengers of the Clothilde first disembarked at the convergence of the Mobile River and Three Mile Creek.
Photo by Susana Raab/Anacostia Community Museum/Smithsonian Institution

Today, the city of Mobile has built up around Africatown. Access to the Mobile River, including the site where the Clothilde’s passengers first disembarked – a site of historical significance known as Magazine Point, is populated by a tank farm which holds tar oil sands imported from Canada.

December 11, 2015 - Containers and cargo line the shoreline of the Mobile River near Africatown, Alabama. Photo by Susana Raab/Anacostia Community Museum/Smithsonian Institution Photo by Susana Raab/Anacostia Community Museum/Smithsonian Institution

December 11, 2015 – Containers and cargo line the shoreline of the Mobile River near Africatown, Alabama seen from the Cochrane-Africatown Bridge.
Photo by Susana Raab/Anacostia Community Museum/Smithsonian Institution

According to local activist, Joe Womack, this site is slated to be expanded, and is just one of many afflictions to this area.  He reported in the community website, Bridge the Gulf:

Another tragedy occurred when the Africatown Guardians were convinced to let the Alabama Highway Department rebuild The Cochrane Bridge after it had been damaged during a hurricane. Before then the Africatown residents had always resisted efforts to rebuild the bridge. The Highway Department told Africatown they would change the name of the Cochrane Bridge to The Africatown Cochrane Bridge and the residents fell for it.

 

Today that bridge that used to be about one quarter mile long is now about 2 miles in length and half of Magazine Point had to be destroyed or moved to accommodate this new bridge. That area was next declared a flood zone and now to get a permit to repair older homes, residents must first raise their house to a certain level and most residents can’t afford to do that. Consequently, houses are not being repaired. Miraculously, residents manage to maintain their homes as best they can.

 

Tragically, during the 1990’s an asphalt company decided to relocate from West Mobile to Magazine Point almost in the middle of the night and without going through all the proper channels. After local resident complained and the newspaper did a story on it, the owner’s comments were,”I didn’t think I needed any permits to relocate in this area”. The business was allowed to continue construction after paying only a small fine and is still polluting the area today.”

December 11, 2015 - A tour of the Africatown, Alabama environs which is surrounded by industrial plants. Photo by Susana Raab/Anacostia Community Museum/Smithsonian Institution

December 11, 2015 – Local activist Joe Womack stands underneath the Cochrane-Africatown Bridge near where the passengers in the Clothilde disembarked.
Photo by Susana Raab/Anacostia Community Museum/Smithsonian Institution

Ironically, Magazine Point is also the final resting place of this last shipment of slaves because Africatown’s Cemetery is located in Magazine Point. Their graves face eastward, towards their African homeland.

December 11, 2015 - The Old Plateau cemetery established in 1876 for Africatown residents. Photo by Susana Raab/Anacostia Community Museum/Smithsonian Institution

December 11, 2015 – The Old Plateau cemetery established in 1876 for Africatown residents.
Photo by Susana Raab/Anacostia Community Museum/Smithsonian Institution

In my travels throughout the country, I am sometimes dismayed by the disregard given to the decaying reminders of a shameful shared history.  I encourage all communities to re-examine their history, and pay homage by preserving the memory and the object that defines our historically significant moments.  As George Santayana famously said, “Those who forget the past are condemned to repeat it.”

The community of Africatown represents the resilience and community organizing spirit of a people brought to America against their will, and who survived, adapted, and perhaps thrived, not because of but in spite of (to paraphrase William Faulkner).

This is part one of our Africatown sojourn. To be continued . . . .

 

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