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Alabama Historical Commission files admiralty claim on the Clotilda

Brandon Moseley

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Friday, July 26, the Alabama Historical Commission (AHC), and the State Historic Preservation Office, filed an Admiralty Claim in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Alabama in Mobile as part of an ongoing and long-term protection and preservation plan for the Clotilda, the last-known slave ship in the United States.

The AHC is charged with protecting, preserving and interpreting Alabama’s historic places. This charge also includes abandoned shipwrecks, or the remains of those ships, and all underwater archeological artifacts embedded in or on lands belonging to the State of Alabama. This mandate is set forth in the Abandoned Shipwrecks Act and the Alabama Underwater Cultural Resources Act.

Mobile area attorney John Kavanaugh is representing the state and has been deputized by Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall (R).

“When significant historical shipwrecks are located, it is common practice to seek the federal court’s assistance to preserve and protect the vessel,” said Kavanaugh, attorney for AHC. “The Federal Court has the authority to issue all necessary and appropriate orders so that work on the site and further preservation efforts can continue without delay.”

In June, AHC contracted with Burr and Foreman, a Mobile-based law firm specializing in maritime law, for assistance in securing every available legal tool to aid in the protection and preservation of the Clotilda. Kavanaugh is a partner with Burr and Foreman.

The Historical Commission explained that pursing an Admiralty Claim is an appropriate course of action and protocol for abandoned wrecks embedded in state waters. AHC is following the lead of other states with similarly high-profile artifacts. For example, a Florida Federal Court adjudicated an Admiralty Claim involving the Atocha and other vessels in a fleet of Spanish galleons, which sank in the Florida Keys during a hurricane in 1622. Likewise, the Titanic, which is located in international waters, benefitted from the protections afforded by an Admiralty Claim.

“The careful considerations for the protection, preservation, and interpretation of the Clotilda have been entirely methodical and strategic,” said Lisa D. Jones, Executive Director of the Alabama Historical Commission. “We are charged with ensuring this tremendously important archaeological find is preserved and protected for Africatown and our nation. It carries a story and an obligation to meet every opportunity to plan for its safeguarding. AHC is laying the groundwork for ongoing efforts to not only ensure the Clotilda’s immediate assessment, but to also establish pathways for its longevity.”

This year is the 400th anniversary of slavery’s arrival in this country. The first ship of African slaves arrived in Jamestown, Virginia in 1619, a year before the Pilgrims made their arrival. By the early 19th century what to do with the growing number of African Americans in bondage was a growing concern,
The international slave trade was outlawed by Great Britain in 1807. The U.S. followed and Congress actually banned the importation of slaves in 1808 while Thomas Jefferson was still President. The belief was then that with no new influx of slaves the practice of slavery would slowly diminish in economic importance over the coming decades and individual family farms would take precedence moving forward as America moved westwards and deeper into the continent. This was eleven years before Alabama was even a state.

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The Tenth Congress had no grasp of how much prime cotton growing land the new nation was about to unleash as the nation moved westwards into West Georgia, Alabama, Tennessee, Mississippi, Arkansas, and Louisiana and displacing most of the Native Americans that lived there. They also could not have known that in the coming decades Florida and Texas would be added or that the invention of the railroad and the steam ship would make exporting cotton from those remote new territories to textile mills in Great Britain a commercial reality. The demand for slaves in the South was growing not decreasing as most had thought in 1808.

Unscrupulous ship owners began the process of smuggling slaves from Africa into the country even though it was against the law to do so. The Clotilda was one of the last of those outlaw slave ships.

The Clotilda illegally transported 110 people from Benin, Africa to Mobile, Alabama in 1860, 52 years after that had become illegal in the United States.

What they were doing would be called human trafficking today and was very illegal even then. Co-conspirators, Timothy Meaher and Captain William Foster attempted to evade authorities and destroy evidence of their criminal voyage by sinking, burning, and abandoning the vessel and then dividing the Africans among their captors, where they remained in slavery until the end of the Civil War.

A small band of the Clotilda passengers reunited post-war with the hopes of returning to Africa. When that dream was not realized, the survivors and their descendants established a new home for themselves in the Plateau area of Mobile – a community which is now known today as Africatown.

“Early in our efforts we realized the tremendous significance and potential of this find and began planning for how we would discharge our responsibilities as its public stewards, including this important legal action.” Major General (Ret.) Walter Givhan, Chair of the Alabama Historical Commission.

“By preserving the Clotilda, Alabama has the opportunity to preserve a piece of history. It is a prime example of an artifact that deserves our respect and remembrance,” said Governor Kay Ivey. “The Clotilda is very much a part of the story of the descendants and residents of Africatown, making it a significant part of the rich history of our entire state. Protecting this resource is imperative, and I look forward to Alabama taking on this important responsibility.”

Congressman Bradley Byrne (R-Montrose) has supported the Alabama Historical Commission and the search over the last two years.
“Preserving the Clotilda wreckage is of critical cultural importance to the people of Africatown and indeed our entire nation,” said Byrne. “I encourage the federal government to take the appropriate and necessary steps to protect this item of such concrete significance to the American story.”

“The discovery of the Clotilda was a significant moment not just for Alabama and our nation, but more importantly for the descendants of the 110 enslaved people who were smuggled in it to our shores,” U.S. Senator Doug Jones (D-Alabama) said. “Many of their descendants live in Africatown today and have been leaders in the effort to protect this important piece of history. It is vital that we take every possible step to preserve the Clotilda, so that future generations can fully appreciate its role in our nation’s past and present.”

State Senator Figures represents the Africatown community and has supported the search for the Clotilda for many years.

“I applaud the AHC under the leadership of Lisa Jones and Clara Nobles, for ensuring that all legal bases are covered in connection with the Clotilda,” said Senator Figures. “I’m excited to continue working with them and all of the descendants and residents of Africatown as we move forward in this project.”

Through the Federal Court’s maritime jurisdiction, a key benefit of pursuing an Admiralty Claim involves the retrieval of any artifacts that have been taken from the Clotilda. This authority is a strategic effort to also prevent against future attempts of “salvagers” who may defame the ship, or its artifacts, by taking from it.

Once an Admiralty Claim is set forth, any invested parties who may claim ownership are asked to come forward immediately. A public notice will be published for three weeks. This then leads to an open forum through the court so that all vested entities have a voice and can be heard in an orderly fashion. The court’s proceedings are a matter of public record so, all interested parties have access and can see what’s being done. The result is to ensure that the Clotilda remains a publicly-owned resource of the State of Alabama.
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“It’s critical from the community perspective that the Alabama Historical Commission takes this action to help preserve and retain the momentous legacy to the Africatown community,” said Anderson Flen, President of the Mobile County Training School Alumni Association. “We are in full support of AHC working with Africatown in taking these legal actions.”

The Alabama Historical Commission is working in concert with the Africatown community, the National Geographic Society, Black Heritage Council, Smithsonian National Museum of African American History & Culture (NMAAHC), the Slave Wrecks Project (SWP), SEARCH, Inc., Diving with a Purpose (DWP), Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, the National Park Service (NPS), and Mobile County.

The Clotilda was reportedly dynamited in the 1940s, which added additional complexities for assessing the ship’s integrity. Archaeological evidence supports these claims. In all, the ship is in a very fragile state, which has heightened precautions and the meticulous care for proceeding with all archaeological endeavors.

“The Alabama Historical Commission and SEARCH, Inc. did stellar work and rigorous research in challenging and dangerous conditions,” said Dave Conlin, a founding member of SWP and head of the National Park Service’s Submerged Resources Center.

“This kind of archaeological work is painstaking and difficult under any circumstances, but the physical conditions of this particular site – zero visibility, high currents and potential entanglements – made this an especially difficult shipwreck to work on.” Conlin said.

Conlin was also was part of the 2018 Clotilda search team and most recently served as a member of the peer review team that confirmed the identity of the Clotilda.

In addition to this year being the 4ooth Anniversary of the arrival of Africans in America, this is also the 200th anniversary of Alabama being a state. The state is celebrating its bicentennial all this year.

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Congress

Alabama municipalities may be left out of $2 trillion stimulus package

Bill Britt

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As the largest economic stimulus in American history flows to states and municipalities around the nation, stipulations in the two-trillion dollar emergency fund may leave Alabama cities out altogether.

As enacted, the third stimulus bill, the CARE Act, directs funding for states, and local governments, the catch is that the act only allocates funds for municipalities with a population of 500,000 or more.

No city in Alabama has a population of 500,000, leaving an unanswered question as to who gets what and who gets nothing?

The state has 463 municipalities spread out over 67 counties. Not one has a population nearing half a million yet each one is experiencing the negative effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We are working with Treasury and the Governor’s office to understand what municipalities can expect,” said Greg Cochran, deputy director of the Alabama League of Municipalities.

Alabama will receive $1.9 billion from the stimulus package, as a block grant, which could be allocated in a 55-45 split, according to the League’s estimation with around $1.04 billion to the state and $856 million going to local governments.

“Currently, there is little guidance on how those shared resources are to be distributed to local governments,” said Cochran. “Nor is there clear directive that those resources are to be shared with local governments with less than 500,000 populations.”

The National League of Cities is also seeking clarification from Treasury Department on these questions and guidelines to ensure funds are shared with local governments.

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“Congress is working on a fourth stimulus bill, and we are working diligently with our Congressional delegation, NLC and other stakeholders to have all cities and towns are recognized for federal funding assistance,” Cochran said.

However, on Tuesday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell cast doubt on a fourth package, saying that Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s needed to “stand down” on passing another rescue bill. “She needs to stand down on the notion that we’re going to go along with taking advantage of the crisis to do things that are unrelated to the crisis,” as reported by The Washington Post.

Alabama’s biggest cites, Birmingham, Montgomery, Huntsville, Mobile and Tuscaloosa, are already facing strain under the weight of the COVID-19 outbreak.

But so are smaller cities like Auburn, Hoover, Madison, Opelika and others. Lee County and Chambers County have far more cases of the virus per capita than the state’s more populous counties.

In addition to health and welfare concerns for residents during the COVID-19 calamity, cites are dealing with what is certain to be a downward spiral on tax revenue and other sources of income and a subsequent rise in costs. The U.S. Department of Labor reported Thursday that at least 90,000 people have applied for unemployment compensation in the state over the last two weeks.

“Knowing that our municipalities will experience a loss in revenue because they rely on sales, motor fuel and lodgings taxes, we are urging our state Legislature to be mindful of actions they take when they return regarding unfunded mandates/preemptions,” said Cochran. “Additionally, we are concerned about the adverse impact this could have on 2021 business licenses, which are based on sales from 2020.”

The combined population of the state’s two biggest cities, Birmingham and Montgomery, do not equal 500,000, the threshold for receiving funds under the Care Act.

Cochran says that the League is working tirelessly to find answers as to how local governments can participate in Congress’s emergency funding.

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Guest Columnists

Opinion | For humanitarian and public health reasons, we need to get people out of our jails

Bishop Van Moody

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For the Lord hears the needy and does not despise his own people who are prisoners (Psalm 69:33)

We are facing a crisis unlike any in our lifetime. A virus is infecting us at unprecedented rates. Over 100,000 have been infected in the United States and the death toll in our country is already in the thousands. 

But we’re not doing everything possible to keep us safe. The county jails in Alabama, which lock up thousands of people, are a major health risk. The incarcerated population can’t practice “social distancing” and instead are left to languish in these facilities with no soap or supplies to sanitize their own cells.

Imprisoned  people are highly vulnerable to outbreaks of contagious illnesses such as COVID-19. People incarcerated in jails are housed in close quarters, and are often in poor health. And, according to a report from the Association of County Commissions of Alabama, the county jail population quadrupled between 2014 and 2018.

The way to mitigate that health risk is clear. We need to release people who are no risk to our communities and vulnerable to exposure immediately. And jail officials need to come up with a plan, and make it public, for how they will deal with a COVID-19 outbreak in their facility. 

Gov. Kay Ivey acknowledged the danger in her State of Emergency declaration, finding that “the condition of jails inherently heightens the possibility of COVID-19 transmission.”  Ivey’s declaration said that people charged with crimes could be served with a summons instead of being arrested. But that doesn’t do much for the people already locked up and awaiting trial. 

And a COVID-19 outbreak in these jails with the current incarcerated population would be disastrous for public health. The incarcerated people who get infected would have to be taken to our already overcrowded hospitals, and people who work in the jails are also in danger of both being infected, and spreading the infection to people on the outside. Lowering the total number of people locked up would make an outbreak less likely, and also make it easier to quarantine people who have been infected.

But there is also a moral and humanitarian reason to get people out of these jails. The crime rate in our state didn’t quadruple in the last few years, but our jail population did. Many of the people now locked up aren’t there because they committed horrible crimes, they’re locked up because they’re too poor to afford bail. Some are even elderly and therefore at “higher risk for severe illness”, according to the CDC.

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It is wrong to lock people up because they can’t afford to pay bail. If a judge has already decided that someone does not pose a threat to the community and they can get out of jail if they can pay a fee, then they shouldn’t be locked up at all during a crisis like this.Poverty is not a crime and under these circumstances, it should not put you at risk of contracting COVID-19.

Last month county jail inmates with bonds under $5,000 were ordered released in Autauga, Elmore and Chilton Counties, as long as the sheriffs and wardens sign off on it. Mobile Countyhas also announced it would release certain pre-trial inmates.. These actions were taken due to fears of the spread of COVID-19.

Other states have also started doing this. Montana, California, New Jersey, Washington and Wyoming are amongthe states that have actively worked to reduce it’s incarcerated population in the last few weeks.

Actions like these need to be the norm going forward. COVID-19 is scary, but we must meet it with Christian love and compassion. We must extend that to our brothers and sisters behind bars who pose no threat to our communities and are awaiting their day in court. We must consider those who are elderly and already ill. This virus is the worst thing many of us have seen in our lifetimes, let’s combat it with love and compassion, instead of hate and fear.

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Economy

More than 80,000 joined the unemployment rolls in Alabama last week

Chip Brownlee

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More than 80,000 people filed a jobless claim to receive unemployment compensation last week, the Alabama Department of Labor and the U.S. Department of Labor say. That number is about eight times the number of claims filed the week before when layoffs began hitting the state.

Alabama Department of Labor spokesperson Tara Hutchison said Monday that some 74,056 people filed an initial jobless claim during the week that ended March 28, according to the department’s preliminary data. That number was revised upward to 80,196 in a U.S. Department of Labor report released Thursday, April 2.

More than 40,000 filed during the first four days of the week last week, with the number jumping past 70,000 by the end of the week before being revised even further upward. The new numbers bring the two-week total to more than 90,000 in the state.

About 10,892 people filed initial claims during the week ending March 21, according to the U.S. Department of Labor’s data. That number was also revised upward. That was also a seven-fold increase compared to the week that ended March 14.

The number of people who filed a jobless claim last week is far more than at any point since at least 1987. The U.S. Department of Labor’s weekly unemployment claims data only goes back to 1987 for Alabama.

“In a sharp contrast to earlier recessions when the manufacturing sector leads, this time the service sector—accounting for 67% of the US economy—has seen quick and widespread declines,” said Hung Tran, a nonresident senior fellow in global business and economics at the Atlantic Council. “This probably will make the contraction deeper, quicker and take longer to recover.”

The Alabama Hospitality Association has estimated that some 225,000 hotel and restaurant workers will be laid off during the COVID-19 crisis.

The Economic Policy Institute’s conservative projections have estimated that nearly 200,000 people could lose their jobs in Alabama.

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“Current unemployment levels are not far-fetched given the fact that industries including retail, hospitality, and leisure have essentially been shut down overnight due to COVID-19,” said Alexis Crow, an economist at the Atlantic Council. “While some industry bodies’ claims may be undershot, and others somewhat overshot, it will be critically important to see how the US steps in to help workers maintain their jobs in order to create greater stability in the economy. How quickly industries ‘bounce back’ remains to be seen, but once the health crisis is contained, businesses in the hardest hit sectors are likely to return, outlasting those which had vulnerabilities prior to the corona crisis.”

The U.S. Department of Labor reported that more than 3.28 million people across the country filed unemployment claims during the week ending March 21. That shattered the Great Recession’s peak of 665,000 in March of 2009, according to CNBC. More than 6.6 million people across the country filed unemployment claims during the week ending March 28.

In Alabama, you can apply for unemployment by phone or online. There have been issues with people having trouble getting through on the telephone system. The state has said freelancers, independent contractors and gig economy workers can now begin filing.

So many unemployment claims have been filed since businesses began laying off people because of the COVID-19 pandemic that the Department of Labor has been having trouble accepting and processing the filings.

WSFA reported this week that some people have not been able to file.

To help alleviate the strain, the state has waived fees that are typically charged when an employer files for their employees.

To be eligible to file for unemployment insurance related to a COVID-19 layoff or firing, you must meet one of the following requirements:

  • Those who are quarantined by a medical professional or a government agency,
  • Those who are laid off or sent home without pay for an extended period by their employer due to COVID-19 concerns,
  • Those who are diagnosed with COVID-19,
  • Or, those who are caring for an immediate family member who is diagnosed with COVID-19.

Workers can file for benefits online at www.labor.alabama.gov or by calling 1-866-234-5382. Online filing is encouraged.

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Health

Chamber of Commerce releases guide to help small businesses file for coronavirus relief

Brandon Moseley

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The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has created a guide to help small businesses, independent contractors and gig economy workers prepare to file for a coronavirus relief loan under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act.

This guide outlines the steps small businesses need to do to access much-needed funds to help keep their workers on the payroll during this disruptive period.

“The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is working with state and local chambers across the country to provide businesses with the information they need to stay afloat and keep people employed during the pandemic,” said U.S. Chamber President Suzanne Clark. “This comprehensive guide ensures small business owners fully understand what aid is available to them and how to access those funds as quickly as possible. We remain committed to ensuring no family or business goes bankrupt due to financial hardships associated with the coronavirus.”

Businesses and entrepreneurs can access the Emergency Loan Small Business guide and checklist here.

Additionally, to help small businesses, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce has compiled an interactive map to show the aid available to them on a state-by-state basis. Use the interactive map to learn how aid available under the Small Business Paycheck Protection Program, created as part of the (CARES) Act, could help the small businesses in each state.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce said that they are committed to helping American businesses respond to the coronavirus so they can support their employees, customers, and communities. We are equipping businesses with tools, resources, and information to help them navigate the challenges of the pandemic in real time.

Learn more at uschamber.com/coronavirus.

Thousands of “nonessential” businesses have been closed across Alabama. Restaurants have been limited to carry out or delivery only. Many businesses are struggling to make payroll during the forced economic shutdown.

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The Business Council of Alabama (BCA) is the U.S. Chamber of Commerce affiliate here in Alabama.

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