Joe Womack's blog

(Photo: Oberlin College students at Baheth R & D Laboratories Ltd)

On October 18, 2015, two vans carrying students, teachers and their supplies arrived in Mobile from Oberlin College in Cleveland, Ohio, to learn more about Africatown and assist ongoing efforts to help revive the community.

This was their second trip to Africatown in the past year, which indicate how serious the students, teachers and their school are about how they feel about Africatown and how much they want to see something positive happen for its residents.

When the last shipment of slaves landed in America in 1860, they originally stayed in a camp along the Mobile River inhabited by a group of slaves known as the Moors. That co-habitation did not go well and they eventually moved inland and formed the township of Plateau. They begin buying up land, building schools and churches and expanding the community to about 2,000 acres or about five square miles. Eventually, other former slaves heard about this sanctuary and began moving to Africatown.

Most people should be familiar with the old phrase "Ace In The Hole". It refers to something very special only to be used when things are not going as planned or at the most appropriate time and place to insure success.

In football, a coach may have his team practice a certain play only to use that play once in a game or an entire season. Then again he might not use that play if he does not have to. That play becomes his insurance in case things do not go as planned and his team is in trouble. That play thus becomes that team's "Ace In The Hole".

In the southwestern corner of Africatown, wedged between two sections of freshly cut new lumber produced by one of Mobile's most successful lumber companies, sits the remains of Africatown's Lewis Quarters. Lewis Quarters was aptly named because it was founded by and inhabited by descendants of Cudjoe Lewis, the youngest of the last shipment of slaves to be brought into this country in 1860. Lewis Quarters is just north of the deepest part of the Three Mile Creek and at one time encompassed all of that section of Africatown.

"So let it be written, so let it be done." Let history record that much like the Freedom Riders came down from the North to help Southerners in their Civil Rights struggle during the 60's, students from Oberlin College near Cleveland, Ohio traveled 1000 miles to help residents of Africatown in Mobile, Alabama in their ongoing quest for economic and environmental justice as well as social respect. 

I had a Professor of Economics in college tell his students "there is a lot of money to be made when dealing with poor people and children. Neither are in control of their own future and both allow others to make decisions for them. Businesses are allowed to build and tear down housing projects to move them around like nomads all in the name of good. While those in charge of solving the poverty problem are not interested in doing so because if they did their jobs would disappear.

This video was made in April 2014, at a US Human Rights Network hearing on human rights abuses, part of the Mobile Center for Fair Housing’s Regional Justice Leadership summit. I told the story of Africatown’s founding, the introduction of the paper industry and pollution in the 1940's, decline of the industry in the 1990's, and attempts to bring in new industry in 2014.

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