“We are the unveilers of a history hidden far too long. This is our opportunity to create a healing of our land.”

Karlos Finley was far from the only speaker to link the past and the future, as a new historical marker was unveiled Saturday in Mobile’s Cooper Riverside Park. But Finley, president of the Dora Franklin Finley African-American Heritage Trail of Mobile, laid out perhaps the clearest link: Without naming the slave ship Clotilda, he noted that “We stand here today on the banks of the same river that provided the last leg of the last voyage of the last vessel carrying human cargo into this country.”

The marker unveiled on Saturday has two sides. One reflects its role marking Mobile as a “site of memory” as part of the Middle Passage Ceremonies and Port Marker Project. The project, under the auspices of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, is designed to recognize and honor “the two million captive Africans who perished during the transatlantic crossing known as the Middle Passage and the ten million who survived the Americas.” This side designates Mobile as a documented arrival site, listing the Clotilda and four other ships believed to have delivered captives into slavery after arriving in Mobile.

Lawrence Specker | LSpecker@AL.com

A historic marker denoting Mobile’s role in the Middle Passage slave trade lists the Clotilda and other ships believed to have delivered African captives into slavery. (Lawrence Specker | LSpecker@AL.com)

The other side, bearing the seal of the city of Mobile, designates seven local points of interest that are part of the Dora Frankly Finley trail. These include the Africatown community created by Clotilda captives freed at the end of the Civil War.

The program for Saturday’s expansive ceremony reflected a desire to embrace many facets of history and many faiths: It included a MOWA Choctaw cleansing ceremony; a city proclamation ready by city attorney Ricardo Woods; invocations and remarks from Baptist, Catholic, Islamic, Jewish and Buddhist faith leaders; and rituals honoring African ancestors.

Despite the obvious emphasis on history, Finley told listeners that the marker, and the ceremony were just as much about the future:

A historic marker denoting Mobile's role in the Middle Passage was unveiled Saturday, Dec. 7, 2019, on the city's waterfront.

Lawrence Specker | LSpecker@AL.com

Karlos Finley, president of the Dora Franklin Finley African American Heritage Trail, speaks at the unveiling ceremony for a new historic marker in Mobile’s Cooper Riverside Park on Dec. 7, 2019. (Lawrence Specker | LSpecker@AL.com)

“We gather here today to call upon our ancestors to conquer our prejudices and our fears,” he said. “But we must realize that we have a responsibility to provide for the generations who will come behind us in the next 400 years an example of courage and dignity, so that they can do the same.”

For more information on the trail, visit www.dffaaht.org. For more on the Middle Passage Project, visit https://www.middlepassageproject.org/.

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