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The Spectacular Find of the Clotilda and What’s Next

THE BIRMINGHAM TIMES — The discovery of the Clotilda slave ship last month in the Mobile River Delta is one of the rarest of archaeological artifacts: tangible evidence validating the story that Africans had been forcefully ripped from their homelands. Because it was the last documented vessel known to have brought enslaved people to America, specifically to Alabama and to Mobile, the Alabama Historical Commission (AHC) had a duty to find the last known slave ship that transported kidnapped men, women, and children from Africa to Alabama.

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By Vickii Howell

MOBILE, Ala.—The discovery of the Clotilda slave ship last month in the Mobile River Delta is one of the rarest of archaeological artifacts: tangible evidence validating the story that Africans had been forcefully ripped from their homelands. Because it was the last documented vessel known to have brought enslaved people to America, specifically to Alabama and to Mobile, the Alabama Historical Commission (AHC) had a duty to find the last known slave ship that transported kidnapped men, women, and children from Africa to Alabama.

Under the federal mandate set forth in the Abandoned Shipwrecks Act of 1999, the AHC, the State Historic Preservation Office of Alabama, is charged with the management and guardianship of maritime archaeological sites abandoned and embedded in Alabama waters, according to its press release.

Now, it is the AHC’s job to protect and preserve the remains of the Clotilda. The AHC and its adjunct, the Black Heritage Council, are also tasked with interpreting history as it really was from the viewpoint of the slaves and their descendants in Africatown, located three miles north of downtown Mobile, which had been formed by a group of 32 West Africans, who in 1860 were part of the last known illegal cargo of slaves to the United States.

The AHC will work closely with Africatown to make sure the community’s history is interpreted and that it directly benefits from the Clotilda find, said Clara Nobles, AHC Assistant Executive Director.

Nobles spoke to the Birmingham Times about the spectacular find and what happens next.

The Birmingham Times: You guys have been sitting on this news for a long time. What does it feel like to finally let this story out? And what does this mean for you not only as a key person with the AHC but also as an African American?

Nobles: Well, it means we just celebrated our big “Wow!” We have been working on this story for almost two years in partnership, of course, with Ben Raines, [formerly of AL.com], who brought attention to the Clotilda. We did a lot of work on it …  [and] realized it was not the Clotilda [that he discovered]. Being energized, we were able to continue the search and eventually come upon the ship that we now know as the Clotilda. So, this has been a long road, and not just for the AHC. [It’s] certainly been a much longer road for the people of Africatown, for the city of Mobile, for the city of Prichard, for Alabama, and also for the nation. Yes, so we do a big sigh of relief, and say, “Thank you, Jesus, that we have gotten the ship!”

Now, the whole thing is, what comes next now that we’ve got this? … I understand that this artifact, this ship in the water, is very important. But … I look to the people for the story. I think we have to go back and be able to get all of this story and to tell this story. As it’s been said already, … we [are] a strong people with resilience and tenacity—people taken from their homeland against their will and brought to this country, people who [still were] able to strive and survive. For me, I just feel proud. I’m not a direct descendant, but I am an African American, so I feel proud to be here today and humble more than anything else.

BT: As far as the AHC, what are the plans for your next steps?

The Alabama Historical Commission announces that the Clotilda has been officially discovered in Mobile Bay.Thursday. May 30, 2019 – Event Photography by Keith Necaise

The Alabama Historical Commission announces that the Clotilda has been officially discovered in Mobile Bay.Thursday. May 30, 2019 – Event Photography by Keith Necaise

Nobles: Well, one of the next things we did was release the science [on May 30], so that information is out in the public domain. In that science were recommendations for going forward. One of the things, as a historic commission, we are concerned with is the protection of the ship. That’s our first priority: to make sure the ship is secure. What we will be doing, hopefully, is pairing in the future with the National Geographic Society again to probably do some further excavation on the ship; to see how much of it is in the mud, its condition; … to see if there are some artifacts, things we could potentially bring up. That would be an immediate next step after things have cooled down a little bit.

BT: Now that you’ve gotten the scientific data, what will it take to bring it up? Or will you leave it where it is?

Nobles: The science will dictate what we can do. The ship isn’t in great condition, [at least not] the part they can see. We knew it was burned. We knew it was dynamited. [Everything is now] going on with the part that is visible, the part we can see and feel. But we don’t know the condition of what’s under the mud. All of that will dictate what we do with the ship. But I will tell you, conservation is very, very, very expensive. We will need millions and millions of dollars if we bring up, much less conserve, anything. So, instead of putting that money into conserving something that’s going to be shards and pieces, we might look to do something else in Africatown that would be more of a memorial or a replica. State Senator [Vivian] Figures (D-Mobile) spoke about a potential replica.

As you’ve heard, AHC Executive Director Lisa Jones and I have been in Washington, D.C., several times talking to Congressman [Bradley] Byrne (R-Mobile) about what we can do on a national level, not just on the local and state level. This is also an international story, so the whole nation needs to get behind the story and give it a gigantic push. We were talking to [Byrne] about potentially, when we are finished with the excavation of the ship, doing some kind of memorial on the water, and the memorial will lead visitors to Africatown.

BT: We also heard about protection. Did I hear [someone] mention that there would be severe consequences if anyone tried to meddle with the ship?

Nobles: Absolutely. We have been working in conjunction with the governor’s office, the Alabama Department of Conservation, the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency (ALEA), and the attorneys general of Alabama, Mobile County, and Baldwin County. They are putting out a press release warning people that anybody who tries to do anything to that ship will be prosecuted to the very [maximum extent] of the law. It’s a Class C felony to tamper with that ship.

BT: What role will descendants play in what happens with the ship?

Nobles: We will be in constant communication and meetings with the descendants because they need to be on top of that. We will talk with them so we can understand their vision for the community. We’ve got to get a vision before we can do anything because without a vision the people perish. We understand that we have to get them engaged because this is not just our story to tell. We’re not going to be the state government coming in here telling Africatown what to do. We want to be in partnership with them, to offer them help, to have them to tell us what a good idea is. Before we build anything, we’ve got to have a master plan. We’ve got to have a plan, so we know where we’re going and what we’re doing.

BT: You are working with the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture and the Slave Wrecks Project in Washington, D.C., about preserving the ship. Is there any discussion about taking it to the National Mall?

Nobles: We will definitely make sure it stays in Africatown. We will lay our bodies down on that ship before letting it leave Alabama, so it will not be taken away. I will say this, if we bring up artifacts that need to be conserved before we have a museum, then we will ask the Smithsonian to curate those things, but then they would come back to Africatown.

BT: There was some talk about taking the ship to the GulfQuest Maritime Museum …

Nobles: No.

BT: … about the ship ending up downtown Mobile …

Nobles: No, we would not do that. We would not be in favor of that. If there’s something that can be brought up, we will likely get that curated, but it will come back to Africatown. When we build whatever, it’s coming back.

BT: If a museum were to open one day, what do you think the economic impact would be on Africatown?

Nobles: I think it would be tremendous because this is going to be not just a national story or a state story but an international story. We have experienced an international, large overflow of tourism in Montgomery because of the Equal Justice Initiative’s [National Memorial for Peace and Justice, known as the National Lynching Memorial]. The tourism dollars will come as people will come.

They will not only come to visit the museum: they will stay overnight, they have to eat, they have to sleep in hotels. So, the area will need hotels, restaurants, nice stores, boutiques, shops, visitor’s centers, tour guides, gas stations, grocery stores—all those things will boost the economy.

BT: What do you think the economic impact of the Clotilda find will have on the lives of people in Africatown in terms of dollars and cents?

Nobles: Oh, my gosh! People will want to come here not only to visit but also to live. This plan for Africatown, the museum, or whatever we do here, I just hope everyone understands that it’s not going to happen overnight. This is a long-range planning process, and it will take a couple of steps. We will get there, if we all stick together.

This article originally appeared in The Birmingham Times

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Activism

Call to Protect Geoffrey’s Inner Circle from Threatened High-Rise Development

Geoffrey’s, located at 410 14th St., is part of the city’s Black Arts Movement and Business District which was formed in 2016 by reso-lution of the Oakland City Council to protect Black-owned businesses and enhance a downtown district that would encourage the historic African American legacy and cul-ture of Oakland.

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By Ken Epstein

Geoffrey’s Inner Circle, a downtown Oakland Cultural Center that has featured live jazz and served music lovers and the Black community for decades, is now under threat from a proposed real estate development that could undermine the stability and future of the facility.

Geoffrey’s, located at 410 14th St., is part of the city’s Black Arts Movement and Business District which was formed in 2016 by resolution of the Oakland City Council to protect Black-owned businesses and enhance a downtown district that would encourage the historic African American legacy and culture of Oakland.

Now, the Oakland Planning Commission is considering a high-rise building proposed by out-of-town developers next to Geoffrey’s, which would jeopardize both the survival of the venue and the Black business district as a whole.

In addition to running a business that has been a crucial institution in the local community and the regional arts scene, Geoffrey Pete, founder, has utilized his business to offer meals for thousands of unsheltered individuals and hosted countless community events.

The following petition is being circulated in defense of Geoffrey’s and the Black Arts district (To add your name to the petition, email info@geoffreyslive.com):

“The African-American community in Oakland has been seriously damaged by developers and public offcials who are willing and sometimes eager to see African Americans disappear from the city. Black people comprised 47% of the population in 1980; now they make up only 20% of said population. In response to this crisis the 14th Street Corridor from Oak to the 880 Frontage Road was established as the Black Arts Movement and Business District by the City Council on Jan. 7, 2016, in Resolution 85958.

Tidewater, an out-of-town developer, is proposing to build a high-rise building at 1431 Franklin, which will damage the Black business district and the businesses in the area including the iconic business of Geoffrey’s Inner Circle at 410 – 14th St.

We demand that the Planning Commission and the City Council reject this predatory building proposal and proceed with plans to fund and enhance the Black Business District.”

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Arts and Culture

IN MEMORIAM: Autris Paige

Paige performed regularly at Four Seasons’ Yachats Music Festival in Oregon from 1983-2017, with artists from around the world. Puerto Ricans Ilya and Raphael LeBron, soprano and baritone, remember him: “He leaves us with a warm memory of the simplicity that made him great: as a human being, as a friend and as a masterful artist!” Baritone Anthony Turner of New York says: “Autris was the embodiment of class and elegance. He delivered every song with a warm silken tone and economy of gestures. Autris gave of himself, his truth, his joy and love.”  Pianists Dennis Helmrich and Gerald Hecht often collaborated with Mr. Paige said: “Autris Paige was among the most intuitively refined musicians we have encountered: a pure pleasure and a cherished memory.” Pianist Jeongeun Yom, pianist, responds,”Autris will be remembered for his kindness, cheerfulness, and above all for his voice, with which he touched  the listeners’ heart.”

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AUTRIS T. PAIGE grew up in Oakland, California where he attended Star Bethel Church and graduated from McClymonds High School. He received a Bachelor of Arts degree from San Francisco State before pursuing advanced studies in musical theatre at the University of Southern California.
AUTRIS T. PAIGE grew up in Oakland, California where he attended Star Bethel Church and graduated from McClymonds High School. He received a Bachelor of Arts degree from San Francisco State before pursuing advanced studies in musical theatre at the University of Southern California.

August 17, 1938 – January 12, 2023

AUTRIS T. PAIGE was the youngest child born to Estella and Overton Paige in Sugar Land, Texas on Aug. 17, 1938.  He passed away on Jan. 12, 2023 in Oakland after a brief illness.  He was supported and comforted by his longtime companion Donna Vaughan.

Mr. Paige grew up in Oakland, California where he attended Star Bethel Church and graduated from McClymonds High School. He received a Bachelor of Arts degree from San Francisco State before pursuing advanced studies in musical theatre at the University of Southern California.

He served in the U.S. Air Force.

In 1971, he made his debut with the Los Angeles Civic Light Opera, appearing in Candide at the Los Angeles Music Center and at the Curran Theatre in San Francisco. He appeared with Ray Charles and the American Ballet Theatre and performed in several musical theatre productions on Broadway including Lost in the Stars; Don’t Bother Me, I Can’t Cope; as Walter Lee in Raisin; and in Timbuktu with Eartha Kitt.

Mr. Paige has also sung with the New York City Opera, the Houston Grand Opera, the Metropolitan Opera and with the San Francisco Opera. Other opera companies in which he performed include the Seattle Opera and the Glyndebourne Opera in England. He was featured in the PBS film and award-winning EMI recording of Porgy and Bess as well as the recording of the opera X, The Life and Times of Malcolm X.

When he returned to Oakland to “retire” he met Dr. W. Hazaiah Williams, Founder and Director of Today’s Artists Concerts (now Four Seasons Arts), who auditioned Paige and invited him to perform on his series. Mr. Paige began a new phase of his musical career.

He appeared many times under the auspices of Today’s Artists Concerts/Four Seasons Arts in New York’s Alice Tully Hall and in venues around the Bay Area in their Art of the Spiritual programs. He was featured in his own Spiritual Journey in 2009. His recently released solo CD, Spiritual Journey, based on this program, has received critical acclaim.

Paige performed regularly at Four Seasons’ Yachats Music Festival in Oregon from 1983-2017, with artists from around the world. Puerto Ricans Ilya and Raphael LeBron, soprano and baritone, remember him: “He leaves us with a warm memory of the simplicity that made him great: as a human being, as a friend and as a masterful artist!” Baritone Anthony Turner of New York says: “Autris was the embodiment of class and elegance. He delivered every song with a warm silken tone and economy of gestures. Autris gave of himself, his truth, his joy and love.”  Pianists Dennis Helmrich and Gerald Hecht often collaborated with Mr. Paige said: “Autris Paige was among the most intuitively refined musicians we have encountered: a pure pleasure and a cherished memory.” Pianist Jeongeun Yom, pianist, responds,”Autris will be remembered for his kindness, cheerfulness, and above all for his voice, with which he touched  the listeners’ heart.”

In 2011, Mr. Paige was featured in Four Seasons Arts’ annual W. Hazaiah Williams Memorial Concert with the Lucy Kinchen Chorale and later with soprano Alison Buchanan. In 2013, he performed his Spiritual Journey II in Berkeley with pianist Othello Jefferson. A second CD entitled Classics and Spirituals was released in September 2013. Pianist Jerry Donaldson of Oakland was a frequent collaborator with Mr. Paige, performing throughout the Bay Area.

A Celebration of Life for Autris Paige will take place Friday, Feb. 3 at 11:00 a.m. at Third Baptist Church of San Francisco, 1399 McAllister Street, San Francisco.

A repast will follow the service.

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Activism

16th Annual MLK Day of Service on the Richmond Greenway

The 16th annual MLK Day of Service in Richmond honoring the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.  was held Jan. 16 with a day of service to the community and activities for families on the Richmond Greenway.

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“…Everybody can be great because everybody can serve.” – Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

The 16th annual MLK Day of Service in Richmond honoring the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.  was held Jan. 16 with a day of service to the community and activities for families on the Richmond Greenway.

The event was hosted by Urban Tilth and the City of Richmond. Event partners were Groundwork Richmond, Rich City Rides, Moving Forward, Hope Worldwide, The Watershed Project, Contra Costa Resource Conservation District, Building Blocks for Kids, City of Richmond, Cal Cameron Institute, Friends of the Richmond Greenway; and Pogo Park.

The celebration made possible with the support of the Hellman Family Foundation, City of Richmond, and hundreds of individual donors.

The day’s schedule included volunteer projects along the Richmond Greenway and a Martin Luther King, Jr. memorial and community celebration at Unity Park.

Among the community service projects were opportunities to take part in projects to transform and beautify the Richmond Greenway Trail, like tending to the Greenway Gardens, trash pickup, and planting native plant and trees.

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