The Clotilda Descendants Association will present the fourth annual Spirit of Our Ancestors Festival on February 12th. This year’s event will feature the stories of slave ship Clotilda and Africatown being brought to life in a short stage highlight titled“An Ocean in My Bones,” developed by playwright and award-winning director Terrence Spivey. The one-act highlight is a precursor to the full-length stage play that will premiere in Mobile, February 2024.
“During the festival, we will only have 10 to 15 actors, but the larger stage production will have up to 50” says Spivey. “The Clotilda and Africatown ancestors deserve to have their voices heard after so many generations of being ignored and marginalized. It’s time to let them bear witness to the struggles, hardships, and pain, but also the resilience, fortitude, and togetherness that allowed them to make a way out of no way.”
The Clotilda is the last known slave ship to enter America one hundred and sixty years ago – despite a then 50 year-old federal law against importing Africans for the purpose of working in the South’s cotton fields. To settle a bet, ship owner Timothy Meaher sailed the Clotilda and its cargo of 110 human beings and dropped anchor at Mobile Bay on July 9, 1860. The 60 day trip across the Atlantic was a long and hard one – especially for the terrified captives that lived in squalor along the way. Researchers confirmed that the remains of that vessel, long rumored to exist but unknown for decades, were found along the Mobile River, near 12 Mile Island and just north of the Mobile Bay delta in 2019.
The Clotilda survivors were freed by Union soldiers in 1865; however, unable to collect the money to return to Africa, they pooled wages to purchase land from the Meaher family. They created their own society set with a chief, law system, churches and a school and named it Africatown after their beloved homeland.
“The Clotilda and Africatown ancestors deserve to have their voices heard after so many generations of being ignored and marginalized. It’s time to let them bear witness to the struggles, hardships, and pain, but also the resilience, fortitude, and togetherness that allowed them to make a way out of no way.”
The keynote speaker of the festival is Dr. Joseph Brown, professor of Africana Studies at Southern Illinois University. He received a Master’s in Afro-American Studies and Ph.D. in American Studies from Yale University. “In Africa, the people do not die,” said Dr. Brown. “They send their spirits among us for aid and support. When we need them, they are there. Now, the ancestors gather around us as a cloud of witnesses. Not only do they rejoice in our existence, but they let us know in dreams, conversations and unexpected encounters that we are here for a reason.”
The festival will take place at historic Mobile County Training School, located at 800 Whitley St., in Africatown. You can get a free ticket to the festival at the Clotilda Descendants website – www.theclotildastory.com
Tickets are limited to first come first serve. Doors open at 10 a.m. and the festival begins at noon.