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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.”

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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.

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.

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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.

Brandon Moseley is a senior reporter with eight and a half years at Alabama Political Reporter. You can email him at [email protected] or follow him on Facebook. Brandon is a native of Moody, Alabama, a graduate of Auburn University, and a seventh generation Alabamian.

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23rd Alabama inmate dies with COVID-19

There have been 409 total positive COVID-19 cases among inmates and 392 total among employees as of Sept. 26.

John H. Glenn

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(STOCK PHOTO)

The Alabama Department of Corrections on Friday reported the 23rd COVID-19 death among inmates in the state’s prisons.

Christopher Nalls, a 59-year-old inmate serving a 15-year sentence, died Sept. 10 at a local hospital in Hamilton, Alabama.

Nalls was moved to the local hospital on Aug. 31 to receive treatment for pre-existing health conditions unrelated to COVID-19.

His admission test upon entering the hospital was negative, and after treatment, Nalls was discharged Sept. 4.

Upon return, Nalls’s condition worsened, and he was readmitted Sept. 10. He died later that same day. A postmortem COVID-19 test showed Nalls died with COVID-19.

ADOC did not report any other positive COVID-19 cases among inmates in correctional facilities. But in the same report Friday, ADOC reported six new positive cases among staff, bringing the staff total to 28 active cases.

ADOC’s Office of Health Services initiated investigations into possible prolonged exposures between positive staff members and inmates or employees.

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There have been 409 total positive COVID-19 cases among inmates and 392 total among employees as of Sept. 26.

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Sen. Doug Jones won’t support SCOTUS nominee before Nov. 3 election

“Certainly, power grabs are not uncommon in our political system, but few are accompanied by such blatant hypocrisy as we are witnessing now,” Jones said.

Eddie Burkhalter

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Incumbent U.S. Sen. Doug Jones during a livestreamed press briefing. (VIA DOUG JONES CAMPAIGN)

Sen. Doug Jones, D-Alabama, on Friday said he would not support any nominee to the U.S. Supreme Court before the outcome of the Nov. 3 election is determined. 

Speaking during a livestreamed briefing, Jones said that while Republicans appear to have enough votes to replace the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, he will not be a party to denying the people a voice in the process in the election of the next president “in just under 44 days.” 

President Donald Trump said Saturday that he plans to nominate Amy Coney Barrett to replace Ginsburg, who on Friday became the first woman, and first Jewish person, to lie in state at the U.S. Capitol. 

Several Republicans who voiced opposition to President Barack Obama’s nomination of Judge Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court more than 10 months before the 2016 election have reversed course, and now say they support Trump nominating a selection with election day just a little more than a month away. 

“Certainly, power grabs are not uncommon in our political system, but few are accompanied by such blatant hypocrisy as we are witnessing now,” Jones said. “In fact, I believe that the level and intensity of hypocrisy being displayed by Senator McConnell and the president, with regard to the rush to confirm Justice Ginsburg’s successor, is unmatched in the history of our constitutional government.” 

Jones said what McConnell and other Republicans should be focusing on instead is getting another round of much-needed COVID-19 aid to small businesses and people impacted by the pandemic. 

“Rather than pushing this confirmation to the top of the Senate calendar, the majority leader should turn his focus instead to protecting the lives and livelihoods of the American people. We should pass a new bipartisan COVID-19 stimulus package to give Americans and businesses the relief that they desperately need, and that economists say if required to shore up the economy now,” Jones said. 

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Jones expressed concern as well for what medical experts are warning could be a new spike in COVID-19 nationwide. 

“There could be an even greater urgency, if our health care professionals’ warnings come to pass,” Jones said. “And that is as temperature drops and people go indoors that this virus spikes, and we see another surge.” 

Asked why his opponent, Tommy Tuberville, won’t debate Jones, he said, “It’s pretty simple. He doesn’t know what he’s talking about.”  

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“He has no clue. He is Coach Clueless,” Jones said. 

Jones noted that when asked recently on his thoughts on extending the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Act of 2020, Tuberville stumbled through an answer that indicated he wasn’t sure what the Voting Rights Act was.

“He had no earthly idea,” Jones said. 

Jones said Tuberville isn’t going to debate him because Tuberville doesn’t want to talk about issues.

“He doesn’t want to talk about a plan. His plan is simply this: Whatever Donald Trump says, I’m good,” Jones said, “and if Donald Trump says or does something that is not good, it’s crickets coming from Coach Tuberville.” 

Jones noted that after multiple news outlets, including Fox News, confirmed reporting that Trump had said disparaging things about veterans who died in combat, Tuberville has not spoken out against Trump’s comments. 

Jennifer Griffin, senior national security correspondent for Fox News, reported that she has spoken to senior U.S. officials who backed up reporting by The Atlantic, and said Trump said of the Vietnam War “anyone who went was a sucker.” 

“He has not said a thing about what was confirmed by Fox News about the president’s comment,” Jones said of Tuberville. “That’s just disgraceful.”

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SEC college football season begins

In August, it appeared that there could potentially be no college football season.

Brandon Moseley

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(VIA AUBURN UNIVERSITY ATHLETICS)

The delayed Southeastern Conference college football season is now underway as Auburn on Saturday hosted Kentucky. The University of Alabama will be playing the University of Missouri in Columbia.

Kickoff for the Kentucky vs. Auburn game was at 11 a.m., and the kickoff for the Alabama vs. Missouri game will be at 6 p.m. Auburn defeated Kentucky 29 to 13.

In August, it appeared that there could potentially be no college football season. The Ivy League, the SWAC, the University of Connecticut, the MAC, the Big 10, the PAC 12, and the Mountain West conferences all announced that they would postpone the 2020 football season to spring.

The unlikely prospect of playing two shortened college football seasons in one calendar year seemed to be the best hope of there even being a college football season. But college football is not like other sports and there is no central governing authority. Each conference makes decisions for itself.

The Atlantic Coast Conference and SEC both met and each decided that they would play this fall — regardless of if any of the other conferences were playing. The Big 12 eventually joined the SEC and ACC.

The SEC will play a 10-game, conference-only season that ends with an SEC Championship game on Dec. 19. Both Alabama and Auburn will have fans in the stands, but both schools are limiting capacity — at least for their home openers. Attendees must wear masks or cloth face coverings and social distancing rules will apply.

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Many states, including Alabama, are playing high school football, and the NFL is in its third week of play. Last week, the Big 12 reversed their earlier decision to sit out this fall and announced an 8-week, conference-only season starting in October. On Thursday, the PAC 12 voted to play a seven-game, conference-only season starting in November, followed by a Dec. 19 championship game. The Mountain West has also voted to play a fall season and the Mid-American Conference is voting, and the colleges are expected to green light an abbreviated fall season.

President Donald Trump had strenuously urged colleges to play this football season.

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UAB, South Alabama and Troy University have already begun their Conference USA and Sunbelt Conference football seasons. UAB defeated South Alabama 42 to 10 on Thursday night.

While few young people have actually died from COVID-19, some university presidents in the Big 10 expressed concerns about the long-term health effects on COVID-19 on survivors, including incidents of heart inflammation.

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Congress

Republicans blast Jones for refusal to even consider Trump nominee

Brandon Moseley

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Republicans criticized U.S. Sen. Doug Jones, D-Alabama, on Friday for saying that he would not vote to confirm any nominee by President Donald Trump before the Nov. 3 election.

Alabama Republican Party chair Terry Lathan called Jones’s announcement “disgraceful.”

“It’s disgraceful that Senator Jones is dismissing his duties when he announced he would not support the confirmation of any Supreme Court justice nominee put forth by President Trump prior to the November election,” Lathan said in a statement. “The Constitution of our country clearly states that the President ‘shall nominate, and by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, shall appoint…judges of the Supreme Court…’”

“At the very least, Senator Jones owes Alabamians the simple courtesy of meeting with the nominee regardless of what he already plans to do,” Lathan continued. “It’s time for him to do his job, at least until November 3rd.”

“The people of our great state have spoken,” Lathan concluded. “The majority support President Trump and his policies which includes the conservative judges he has nominated for the federal bench. However, Doug Jones continues to ignore the wishes of the majority of his constituents and falls in line with his liberal party bosses, Hollywood supporters and New York fundraisers. On Election Day, Alabamians will give their advice and consent to remove Doug Jones from office. Tommy Tuberville will represent the majority’s values when he is elected as our next U.S. Senator.”

On Friday, Jones was asked if he would even meet with the nominee. His response was, “I don’t think my vote’s going to count, so I doubt they’ll even want to.”

“The President’s nominee hasn’t even been announced but anti-Trump Democrat Doug Jones has already made up his mind against the person,” said NRSC spokesperson Paige Lindgren. “Refusing to take part in a consequential Supreme Court confirmation process is the latest example that Jones has one foot out the door. He’s clearly no longer focused on representing the people of Alabama.”

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Former State Rep. Perry Hooper Jr., a Trump supporter, said that Jones votes against “everything that the people of Alabama believe in.”

“Doug Jones has consistently voted against the President and everything the good people of Alabama believe in.” Hooper said. “Jones is against the 2nd Amendment, he is for government funded abortions and he is a globalist. Alabama needs to send a strong pro-life, pro-business, pro-Trump and pro-American to Washington DC. And that man is Coach Tommy Tuberville.”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, has vowed to bring the president’s pick to the floor of the Senate for a vote.

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“Thank God for Senator Mitch McConnell,” Hooper said. “Senator McConnell has 51 votes to confirm the President’s nominee to the US Supreme Court.”

Conservatives are hopeful that a more conservative court will vote to overturn Roe vs. Wade, the Supreme Court precedent that prevents state governments from banning abortions.

“Senator Doug Jones betrayed Alabamians when he voted against Justice Kavanaugh and has betrayed them again today, before President Trump’s Supreme Court nominee has even been named,” SBA List President Marjorie Dannenfelser said in a statement. “During his short time in office, Jones has proven to be an extremist, repeatedly siding against constituents and voting with the most radical members of his party – like Kamala Harris – in favor of abortion on demand through birth, paid for by taxpayers. Asked about his stance on limiting late-term abortions more than halfway through pregnancy, Senator Jones laughed and called the issue ‘stupid.’ Jones is unfit to represent the pro-life, pro-Trump state of Alabama and will be held accountable at the ballot box.”

Many media sources are reporting that Trump will appoint Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Amy Coney Barrett to fill the vacancy on the court left by the death of Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

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