What Remains: Preserving the Heritage of Africatown
3260 South Street Philadelphia, PA 19104
This daylong symposium is co-sponsored by the Department of Historic Preservation at Weitzman and the Center for Africana Studies at Penn.
This interdisciplinary symposium will bring together scholars, activists, and designers dedicated to amplifying the history of Africatown, Alabama through ensuring community-led processes for racial, environmental, and economic justice. Africatown, also known as Plateau, is a community north of downtown Mobile that was founded in 1866 by formerly enslaved West Africans who were brought to Alabama in 1860 on the Clotilda, the last documented slave ship to arrive to the United States. The journey and the life of one of those founders, Cudjo (Kossula) Lewis is the subject matter of Zora Neale Hurston’s Barracoon: The Story of the Last “Black Cargo.”
The discovery of the Clotilda remains in 2018 and the recent release of the Netflix documentary Descendant has led to increased media attention and economic opportunity for local heritage tourism, yet questions persist about who is to benefit and how descendants can maintain authority and autonomy over these developments. The symposium aims to focus attention on the growth and continuous encroachment of heavy industry, including paper mills and chemical refineries, around Africatown that have created public health crises for the descendant community.
Featuring three panels that will focus on storytelling, activism, and design, this convening seeks to answer questions related to memory work and environmental and spatial justice, including:
- In what ways can our knowledge of the past help inform our vision for the future?
- How do we amplify the diasporic links between West Africa and modern-day Africa Town USA?
- How can descendant communities shape policy decisions around reparations?
- What role does historic preservation have in design, especially when much of the physical fabric of what we wish to honor and celebrate has vanished or been purposefully erased?