The Finley African American Heritage Trail in Mobile takes an in-depth look at the history and contributions of African Americans from the founding of Mobile to the present. While the trail became the vision of Dora Franklin Finley, it was City Councilman, William Carroll that suggested an African American Tour in Mobile. Tasking Dora Finley with the challenge, he certainly tapped the right person. Mrs. Finley worked tirelessly for five years to find the significant places in Mobile of the African American story and heritage. Today, her legacy lives on in the success of Mobile’s preeminent African American Tour. With some forty-three historical markers on the tour, it’s best to take some time to investigate them all.
Whether you simply download the Trail brochure and seek out the trail markers on your own or you take the tour in the comfortable air-conditioned DFFAAHT van, you will not be disappointed with the stories you will learn while on the trail. There are so many stories on the trial, I have selected just a few:
STOPS ON THE TRAIL
The John Ragland Slave Market where slaves were auctioned sold off to be owned by whoever bought them. Many went to other regions of Alabama and children were often separated from parents and sold.
The Clotilda was the last slave ship to enter the US when in 1860, Timothy Meaher, a local plantation owner made a bet that he could smuggle one hundred slaves into Mobile. Slavery was legal at that time but an 1807 Act prohibited the importation of slaves. The Union authorities were aware of the ships’ return but to complete his bet, Meaher sent out a paddleboat in order to get the slaves ashore. Captain William Foster then sailed the Clotilda up the river and burned it to destroy any evidence of the journey. The slaves were dispersed throughout the area. Both Foster and Meaher were arrested in 1861 but the Union authorities soon left and they never put to trial.
Africatown is where many of the slaves from the Clotilda settled. Cudjoe Lewis (Kalooza) is the most famous survivor of the Clotilda. He died in 1935 at the age of ninety-five. Cudjoe did interviews with author Zora Nell Hurston and Barracoon was written in Cudjoe’s dialect. The manuscript was maintained at Howard University since it was penned. The manuscript was finally published in 2018. The Africatown/Plateau Cemetery was established in 1876. A five-foot headstone was placed in the cemetery to mark Cudjoe Lewis’ passing. Many of the descendants of the Clotilda are buried in the cemetery. Recently, a mural of Clotilda was completed opposite the cemetery on the road that leads toward the Cochran-Africatown Suspension Bridge. The bridge was built in the 1990s to honor Africatown.
Union Missionary Baptist Church
Union Missionary Baptist Church across the street was established by Cudjoe Lewis in 1867. Sculptor April Livingston created a bust of Lewis which was place in front of the church in June 2017.
Stone Street Baptist Church
Stone Street Baptist is the oldest Baptist church in Alabama and was established in 1806. The deed was transferred to the African American congregation in 1843.
Hammerin Hank Aaron
Honoring Mobile’s Baseball Heritage, the trial pays tribute to “Hammerin” Hank Aaron who played baseball at Central High School. Aaron is one of five African American Mobilians to be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame, along with Willy McCovey, Satchel Paige, Ozzie Smith, and Billy Williams.
A mural was painted on N. Claiborne Street at the intersection of Dauphin Street to honor three prominent African American Mobilians:
Dr. Regina Benjamin is a former Vice Admiral in the US Public Service Commissioned Health Corps and served as Surgeon General under President Obama. She is the founder of the Bayou La Batre Rural Health Clinic.
Dr. Lonnie Johnson a graduate of Williamson High, former US Air Force Officer, NASA engineer, and inventor of the hugely successful Super Soaker. Maj. General J. Gary Cooper a U.S. Marine, the first African American a Marine Corp infantry company, Ambassador to Jamaica and President of Commonwealth Bank.
A Slave No More
Wallace Turnage was a slave in Mississippi the 1800’s and ran away five times. His owner brought him to the Ragland Slave market. Wallace would run away for the last time during in 1864 when after being whipped by his owner, he walked away and eventually ended up at a Union encampment on Dauphin Island, a small island off of Mobile. It was there he told the Union soldiers everything he could about Mobile in return for a job. He would ultimately relocate to Chicago where he wrote a book about his life, A Slave No More.
These are only a small selection of the stories of African Americans you will learn when on the Finley Heritage Trail. Seek out this eye-opening historical tour when you are in Mobile.
“You can’t know where you’re going until you know where you’ve been.”