Dora Franklin Finley African American Heritage Trail Mobile, Alabama

Eric Finley, host of the DFFAAHT

The Dora Franklin 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, City Councilman William Carroll 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 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

Slave Market

The John Ragland Slave Market, where slaves were auctioned and sold off to be owned by whoever bought them.  Many went to other regions of Alabama, and children were often separated from their parents and sold. 

Clotilda

The Clotilda was the last slave ship to enter the US when, in 1860, Timothy Meaher, a local plantation owner, bet he could smuggle one hundred slaves into Mobile.  Slavery was legal then, 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 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 were never put to trial. 

Africatown

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 was interviewed by author Zora Nell Hurston, and Barracoon was written in Cudjoe’s dialect.  The manuscript has been 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 placed 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 among the five African American Mobilians to be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame, along with Willy  McCovey, Satchel Paige, Ozzie Smith, and Billy Williams.

Notable Mobilians

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 Marine Corps infantry company, Ambassador to Jamaica, and President of Commonwealth Bank.

A Slave No More

Wallace Turnage was a slave in Mississippi in 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.  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.”

http://www.dffaaht.org/index.php

 

 

 

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