Bringing the Darkness to the Light: A Lantern Walk for Africatown, AL

During the past month, AARN has been meeting with Major Joe Womack who is a retired Marine, a resident of Africatown, and an alumnus of the Mobile County Training School, and Anderson Flen who is also an alumnus of the Mobile County Training School and a former resident of Africatown.

Africatown was founded by enslaved people from Africa who were illegally brought to the United States (US) on board the Clotilda. The Clotilda was the last transatlantic voyage of enslaved peoples to arrive to the US in 1860. Federal law made it illegal to transport captive people from Africa to the US in 1808. Meaher, who had chartered the schooner, successfully avoided federal arrest and individuals were separated and enslaved upon arrival to the shores of Mobile, Alabama.

Five years later, following the close of the Civil War, approximately thirty of the enslaved ship-mates reunited. They desired to return to their homeland, but were unsuccessful. The ship-mates pooled their resources to purchase land and established African Town, now known as Africatown. The community members self-governed similarly to their homeland including a chief and two judges. They erected a church and school. They advocated for their rights and fought to vote. Several members even sought reparations for injuries or as pensions for freed people. Africatown remained self-governed until 1960.

One of the historical traditions of Africatown was the annual Lantern Walk. This walk was held yearly to pay homage to the Elders and Ancestors of the Clotilda. Last held in the late 1950s, this historical tradition is about  healing, growth, and remembering. As Anderson notes, ‘the lantern walk is about getting the young people to understand we didn’t do this alone, we need to honor where we came from.” The Mobile County Training School Alumni Association is working to restore this significant historical ceremony with support from AARN and the International Center for Transitional Justice (ICTJ).

On January 3, 2022, AARN and ICTJ plan to meet with Africatown descendants and community leaders to learn about their vision for recreating the lantern walk and developing a walking tour of their community. The Lantern Walk will be completed by June 2022. High school graduates will take part in the traditional ceremony and complete the lantern walk at the Old Plateau Cemetery, the final resting place of enslaved Africans, African-Americans, and a Buffalo Soldier. Anderson Flen’s theme of the Lantern Walk is “Bringing the Darkness to the Light.”