Proposed Africatown Park Called Positive Statement on Slavery
PRICHARD, Ala. (AP) _ A black leader seeking to commemorate the last shipload of slaves to arrive in this country heralds a proposed state park, but the mayor would like to see the site of the slave settlement designated a historical district as well.
Gov. George C. Wallace scheduled a ceremony in Montgomery this afternoon to sign an Africatown USA bill that was passed in the recent special session of the Legislature after several attempts over the past three years.
″Those of us who fought so hard for Africatown firmly believe that it will enhance trade opportunities with African nations in addition to providing a rich cultural, recreational and economic opportunity,″ said state Sen. Michael Figures, a bill sponsor.
The interpretive park is planned for construction on 150 acres in Prichard, a Mobile suburb.
Prichard Mayor John Smith said Wednesday construction on the park could begin early next year. It commemmorates the 1859 landing of the ″Clotilde,″ reputed to be the last slave ship to arrive in this country from Africa.
In a compromise to win passage of the bill, historic monuments were accepted over the demand for an officially recognized historic district in the north Mobile area that has become industrialized.
Structures built by the early black settlers no longer exist, forcing historic preservation authorities to deny it recognition. Instead, monuments will be placed at 37 sites, including the settlement of the slaves who arrived on the ship, graveyards, churches, and the shipyard where Clotilde was built.
Smith, who is black, said nothing now stands in the way of building the park in Prichard, about three miles from the historic sites.
A provision in the legislation allows a historic preservation authority to issue bonds to pay for the park, estimated to cost $8 million to $10 million.
Other construction funds would come from private sources, Smith said. ″No federal, state or local government funds are required or desired.″
Figures, who is black, said passage of the Africatown bill ″is one of the few official statements ever made by any government any where in recognition of the history of slavery in this country in a positive manner.″
But Smith said using markers instead of declaring a historic district in the north Mobile area ″weakened the idea″ of Africatown USA. ″I still think the historic district is an important designation,″ he said.
However, industries in north Mobile opposed a historic district because they feared the restrictions of government regulations protecting such areas.
Pat Castiglione, a spokeswoman for International Paper, which opposed the historic district, said the markers compromise satisfied the company.
″We felt our interests were pretty much protected and we did not oppose the legislation,″ Castiglione said. ″The Mobile city limits are not impacted by the park.″
State Rep. Mike Box said he’s concerned that Africatown supporters will continue to press for a historic district in Mobile.
″That’s my suspicion. That’s what they’re out to do,″ said Box, who is white.
During the special session, Box attempted to substitute Figures’ bill with one that didn’t call for establishing a park.