We may be in the midst of prime summertime, and there’s still fall and the whole holiday season ahead, but we’re getting ready and counting the days to one of the most exciting cultural events in the country. Yes, you guessed it. Mardi Gras, the iconic Carnival celebration, is just six months away and thus it’s not too early to mark your calendars and make your plans for this incredible, weeks-long event filled with music, parades, costumes and the true spirit of the South.
Saturday, July 8 marked the grand opening of “Clotilda: The Exhibition” at Africatown Heritage House in Mobile Alabama, located in the heart of one of the most significant communities in African American history.
The opening took place on the 163rd anniversary of what’s locally known as “The Landing,” the date when 110 West Africans arrived in the United States – in shackles and against their will – on the last documented slave ship to arrive in this country.
The exhibit tells a big story in a small space that’s not so much larger than the ship that transported the 110 back in 1860 – 52 years after international slave trade became illegal – then was burned and sunk to cover up the crime that had been committed.
The group survived the Middle Passage and five years of enslavement, then created the only community of its kind, one that was entirely run by African-born Americans. There they maintained their African identities; continued to speak their languages; established their own set of governance; and built churches, schools and businesses based on what they knew from their homeland.It’s the ultimate story of resilience, and it’s one that has long needed to be shared.
A tale that was once only whispered among descendants of the 110 is now – finally – being heard by people around the world.In 2019, the remains of the shipwrecked Clotilda were identified at the bottom of the Mobile River, providing irrefutable proof of the 160-year-old crime.
The sunken ship also offers a tangible link to the 110, making their descendants a rarity among the millions of African Americans who long for specific details about when and how their ancestors were forcibly brought into the United States.Some pieces of the sunken ship scientifically verified to be the Clotilda are among the artifacts on display in the exhibition, which puts its emphasis not on the ship, but on the 110 men, women and children it brought to the United States.
The exhibit also features a variety of other artifacts, interpretive text panels, and documents.That paperwork includes land deeds and marriage certificates that prove that the shipmates – most of whom didn’t know each other before their capture, many of whom didn’t even speak the same languages or practice the same religions – became a community and, by all reckoning, each other’s family in the absence of true kin. Ripped apart from everyone they knew in West Africa, the survivors eventually established their own family units in the United States.
Survivors Share Their Stories
Because they arrived five decades after international slave trade was abolished and they were quite young at the time – the oldest Clotilda survivors were in their early 20s in 1860 – some of them lived well into the 20th century and documented their first-hand accounts. This means that their children and grandchildren knew the stories of what happened to the 110 – their capture, their enslavement, the Middle Passage, and the burning and sinking of the Clotilda – and passed them down from generation to generation.
Special water tanks hold artifacts recovered from the shipwreck verified to be the Clotilda, the last known slave ship to arrive in America.Credit: History Museum of MobileThe modern-day descendants – ranging from third generation into seventh generation and perhaps beyond – were the first people to visit the exhibition.
Out of respect to the descendants, the exhibition opened in a special preview for them last Thursday, July 6. Throughout the day, hands were held, tears were shed and hugs were shared, all representing a mix of emotions that ran the gamut from grief to joy.
“I hope the exhibit draws attention to the story of our ancestors’ beginnings and to the challenges the Africatown community faces today,” said Jeremy Ellis, president of Clotilda Descendants Association.On Saturday, which marked the public opening of both Africatown Heritage House and Clotilda: The Exhibition, the community of Africatown came together to invite the world to share in a story that has been 163 years in the making.
The first hundreds of visitors who passed through the doors included descendants from around the country, members of the community, people who have been following this fascinating story for years, the dive team and marine archaeologists who are studying and conserving the boat, the elected officials and donors who set aside the funding to create the site and exhibition, and the museum curators who have worked hard to trace the stories of the survivors.
“I have spent years reading and writing stories of the survivors,” said Meg McCrummen Fowler, the director of the History Museum of Mobile, which curated, constructed and funded the exhibition and operates Africatown Heritage House. “You can’t do that and not be changed. My hope is that visitors to Africatown Heritage House will leave not just having learned historical facts, but rather having had an experience with history that brings the humanity of the story into sharp relief … and maybe even learning something about themselves in the process.”
If You Go:
Africatown Heritage House is open Tuesdays through Saturdays, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Due to space limitations, tickets for Clotilda: The Exhibition – which will remain at the site for at least three years – are timed and should be reserved online in advance of a visit.
Tickets, which can be purchased up to 60 days in advance, are $15 for adults; $9 for guests ages 65 or more, students age 18 or more with a valid school ID, and active or retired military with ID; $8 for children ages 6 to 18; free for children 5 and under; and free for Mobile County residents with proof of residency (though donations are encouraged).
“I hope that visitors leave Africatown Heritage House knowing that there is still greatness in the community and amongst the people, and feel deeply connected to something larger than themselves,” said Altevese Lumbers-Rosario, vice president of Clotilda Descendants Association. “That is what my ancestor, Kossula, and the remaining founders of Africatown strived to embody, teach their descendants, and anchor their lives to.”
Learn More About Africatown
Africatown Community Organizations
Africatown is a small residential area just north of downtown Mobile. Many of its residents
can trace their lineage to the 110 survivors of the Clotilda, who founded the community after
the Civil War. For more than 150 years, members of the community took steps to ensure that
the incredible story of those who came before them was always honored and never forgotten.
They tapped into their personal resources and gave of their time, ever committed to
preserving their history while ensuring a bright future for the generations to come. Their
decades of dedication has resulted in the establishment of a full array of community
organizations that work diligently – independently and also in support of each other – to keep
the dreams of the original residents of Africatown alive. Listed in alphabetical order, these
- Africatown Business & Community Panel:
- Africatown C.H.E.S.S. (Clean, Healthy, Educated, Safe & Sustainable):
- Africatown Community Development Corporation: https://www.africatowncdc.com/
- Africatown Heritage Preservation Foundation: https://africatownhpf.org/
- Africatown Redevelopment Corporation: created by the Alabama State
Legislature/HB#448 in 2021: https://atownrc.com
- Clotilda Descendants Association: https://theclotildastory.com/
- M.O.V.E. (Making Opportunities Viable for Everyone) Gulf Coast Community
Development Corporation: https://movegulfcoastcdc.org/
- Mobile County Training School Alumni Association: http://www.mctswhippets.org/
- Mobile Environmental Justice Action Coalition: https://www.mejacoalition.org/
Credit: Mobile County Commission
Historic Africatown Churches (in order of founding)
- 1869: Union Missionary Baptist Church, 506 Bay Bridge Road, Mobile, AL 36610
- 1883: Yorktown Baptist Church, 851 East Street, Mobile, AL 36610
- 1893: First Hopewell Missionary Baptist Church, 664 Shelby Street, Mobile, AL 36610
For more information, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Suggested Reading: Books of Interest (all available on Amazon)
- Barracoon: The Story of the Last “Black Cargo” (Zora Neale Hurston, 2018)
- Clotilda: The History and Archaeology of the Last Slave Ship (James P. Delgado,
Deborah E. Marx, Kyle Lent, Joseph Grinnan and Alexander DeCaro, 2023)
- Dreams of Africa in Alabama: The Slave Ship Clotilda and the Story of the Last
Africans Brought to America (Sylviane A. Diouf, 2007)
- Historic Sketches of the South (Emma Langdon Roche, 1914)
- The Last Slave Ship: The True Story of How Clotilda Was Found, Her Descendants, and
an Extraordinary Reckoning (Ben Raines, 2022)
- The Slave Ship Clotilda and the Making of AfricaTown, USA: Spirit of Our Ancestors
(Natalie S. Robertson, 2008)
Suggested Reading: Articles of Interest
- “Clotilda: Journey of the Last American Slave Ship” National Geographic, November
19, 2019 (Please note: This is behind a paywall, so you’ll need to log in with an email
address or subscribe to access the story.)
- “Clotilda, America’s Last Slave Ship: Stole Them From Home, It Couldn’t Steal Their
Identities” National Geographic, January 16, 2020 (Please note: This is behind a
paywall, so you’ll need to log in with an email address or subscribe to access the
- “Africatown – A Tradition and Struggle Like No Other” by Joe Womack, posted July 7,
2014 on the “Bridge the Gulf” blog
- “Clotilda: Last American Slave Ship,” currently showing on Disney+
- “Descendant,” currently showing on Netflix
- Dora Franklin Finley African American Heritage Trail: https://www.dffaaht.org/
(established in 2005)
- Visit Mobile, the official tourism organization for the city, worked with Michelle
Browder of More Than Tours in Montgomery, to mentor a group of aspiring tour guides,
some of whom are descendants. Browder helped five businesses establish licenses and
create marketing tools, in addition to coaching them on how to share fascinating but
difficult stories in both educational and engaging ways. The first class of “Africatown
Experience Givers” graduated on January 25, 2023. Please see related document in
the Clotilda.com press room for more details.
My friends at Mindy Bianca Public Relations tell me they love representing Bowling Green, Kentucky for many reasons, but at the top of their list is the fact it’s the hometown of Duncan Hines. Most of us know his name from boxed cake mixes sitting on the grocery shelves, but that’s just part of his story as Mindy would say. Here’s a big wedge of American pop culture for you … perhaps best served with a tall glass of milk.
Duncan Hines was a traveling salesman who didn’t know much about cooking but knew a lot about good food and he kept notes during his travels and made recommendations for fellow travelers. His notes became books and his books became best sellers with names like “Adventures in Good Eating” and Adventures In Good Cooking And The Art Of Carving In The Home Tested Recipes Of Unusual Dishes From America’s Favorite Eating Places. Mindy and her team selected these cakes in homage to Hines who was born on March 26, 1880. And these aren’ts any old cakes, they’re confectionary marvels that will make you want to hit the road!
Let’s start close to where Duncan Hines himself did … right near Bowling Green, Kentucky. Boyce’s General Store is a foodie heaven, serving as the kitchen and retail shop for two phenomenal dessert bakers, The Pie Queen and The Cake Shop. Though the dynamic duo who bake the cakes create all sorts of flavors – the display case simply makes your mouth water – we’re most intrigued by the bundt cakes. No matter which flavor you get, you can expect a cake that’s moist and rich and covered in a cream cheese glaze. If you don’t need to serve 10 to 12 of your closest friends, go for the mini sampler, which features one each of chocolate, apple spice, snickerdoodle and red velvet.
For years, Caroline’s Cakes has been sending its delicacies out through their successful mail-order service. Last year, though, the bakers finally opened a storefront along Beaumont Avenue in Spartanburg, meaning that visitors to this town along the northern border of South Carolina can finally walk into a shop for an immediate taste of one of the city’s most delicious exports. The 7-Layer Caramel Cake features – surprise! – seven layers of moist yellow cake crowned by melt-in-your-mouth caramel icing. It’s a Southern classic that has achieved ultimate success: making it to Oprah’s list of favorite things! (It’s on our list of favorite things, too, but we know that doesn’t carry nearly as much prestige as Oprah’s.)
Hummingbird Cake from Lola
Historic downtown Covington, Louisiana Northshore
When Hurricane Katrina blew through Louisiana in 2005, Keith and Nealy Frentz, who were both sous chefs at the world-famous Brennan’s restaurant in New Orleans, found themselves out of work. They evacuated to Keith’s hometown of Covington and opened their own restaurant just a year later. It’s hard to decide on the very best meal at Lola – we can confirm that everything on the menu is delicious – but one thing is certain: You must end that meal with a piece of hummingbird cake. Nealy uses her grandma’s recipe to craft this moist banana cake that’s filled with chunks of juicy pineapple and a dash of cinnamon. It’s all topped off with a decadent cream cheese icing, ensuring that both the fruit and dairy food groups are beautifully represented. Hooray for Nealy’s take on the food pyramid!
Lane Cake from The Hummingbird Way Oyster Bar
Lane Cake was invented by Emma Rylander Lane more than 100 years ago as an entry in Alabama’s state fair, with its recipe being officially published in a cookbook in 1898. It entered popular culture through multiple mentions in Harper Lee’s 1960 novel To Kill a Mockingbird, and it ultimately bumped hummingbird cake (sorry, Nealy!) out of the way to become Alabama’s official state dessert. The cake gets its incredible flavor from its rich icing, which is made with chopped pecans, golden raisins, coconut and Alabama whiskey and then spread between layers and layers of moist cake. Chef Jim Smith, proprietor of The Hummingbird Way Oyster Bar, one of Mobile’s favorite restaurants, is the former executive chef for the State of Alabama … so we can confirm he knows his way around the state’s favorite dessert.
Italian Cream Cake from Cajun Pecan House
The MBPR team is proud to represent an array of Southern destinations, and you’ll see a running theme among them when it comes to their baked goods: moist cake, some sort of fruit or nut, cream cheese icing. Our favorite selection in Lafourche Parish, Louisiana, aka “Louisiana’s Cajun Bayou,” is the Italian Cream Cake from the charming Cajun Pecan House. The place lives up to its name and tosses pecans on and in pretty much everything. Lots of folks come here looking for a pecan pie or a praline – both of which are delicious – but the bakers also put plenty of their namesake nut into a yellow cake batter that’s made extra-moist by the addition of coconut. Then they slather it in a rich cream cheese icing that’s topped with additional coconut and – you guessed it – more pecans! It feels more Southern than Italian to us, but we are NOT complaining!
Caramel Cake from Deep South Cake Company
Your sweet tooth will get quite a workout at the Deep South Cake Company, which is home to a dazzling array of cakes and cupcakes. But the winner by a landslide – the bakery sells at least 1,400 of them between Thanksgiving and Christmas alone – is the legendary caramel cake. Shannon Rumley and her team put a lot of time and energy into this cake, which features a burnt sugar icing that Shannon’s mother and grandmother taught her how to make when she was just a kid. Achieving the proper consistency for the icing requires constant stirring, so this cake truly is a labor of love. If you’re not into caramel – or if you’re loyal to Caroline’s Cakes (see above) and feel guilty eating a caramel cake from anywhere else – don’t fear: Shannon’s second-best seller is a strawberry cake that cuts the sweet with a little zip from the berries.
Pink Champagne Cake from Spark’d Creative Pastry
The bake shop at the historic HOTEL DU PONT in Wilmington, Delaware
Speaking of strawberries, how about that classic romantic combo of berries and champagne? There’s a lot to love about a stay in the historic HOTEL DU PONT in downtown Wilmington, but we think that being just a few paces away from the offerings at Spark’d, the hotel’s bake shop, is one of the strongest motivators for booking a room here. The Pink Champagne Cake is the delightful merger of strawberry cake, strawberry jam and Champagne buttercream icing. With a little advance notice, the hotel’s pastry team is also happy to create a custom design to ensure that the cake you order is perfectly suited to its recipient.
Gingerbread Cake from Mrs. Johnnie’s Gingerbread House
A Louisiana bakery that proves that so-called seasonal cakes are amazing all year round is Mrs. Johnnie’s Gingerbread House. Locals know – and visitors are finally discovering – that gingerbread is appropriate for every season, not just Christmastime. This low-key shop, which is easily mistaken for a neighborhood home, is hidden in plain sight. But those in the know (many of whom learned about the Gingerbread House thanks to a viral TikTok video last year) can tell you that this popular establishment offers a special cake that throws one heck of a Christmas party in your mouth. Leona Guillory Johnnie, the original owner of the bakery, spent 40 years perfecting the recipe. Today her son, Kevin Ames, continues her legacy, also serving traditional tea cakes and an array of pies.
Pinch Me Round from Jamaica
Look for the “Cake Man” on the beaches of Negril during a stay at Sunset at the Palms
It’s not gingerbread, but some people swear that ginger is the magic ingredient in a dessert that our client resort in Jamaica turned us on to. It’s called “gizzada,” but it also goes by the nickname “Pinch Me Round.” Though it’s technically more of a tart than a cake, the fact that a guy called the “Cake Man” sells gizzadas during his rounds on the beaches of Negril convinced us that the dessert warrants a spot on our list. Each islander has their own spin on this classic Jamaican dessert, which features a pinched pastry shell filled with plenty of sweet, grated coconut. Some bakers like to add a touch of ginger to give it a little kick. The dessert is said to have originated among Portuguese Jews who came to Jamaica to escape persecution, but over the years the Jamaicans have made the dessert truly their own. In fact, they say that the shape of the treat will remind you of the shining sun you’ll see on your trip to the island.
Tricia’s Jamaican Rum Cake from Market Wego
Westwego, Louisiana, in Jefferson Parish
If you can’t get to Jamaica right now, you may be able to live vicariously with a visit to Market Wego, a proper Cajun market in southeastern Louisiana. Its owner, River Shay, says her grandmother, Tricia, simply loved visiting Jamaica. On each of her trips, Tricia liked to sample the island’s rum cakes. Over the years, she took what she loved about each variation to create her very own recipe. Her cake truly pays homage to Duncan Hines, because Tricia swore by using only a Duncan Hines cake mix as the base … and then adding an extra splash of rum at the end. Her recipe is still used to this day, and patrons order the cake at all hours – breakfast, lunch and dinner!
Flower Cupcakes from Dollywood
Pigeon Forge, Tennessee
Dolly Parton’s theme park is known for its delicious meal offerings – around here, “park food” means way more than hot dogs and funnel cakes – but during Dollywood’s annual Flower & Food Festival (this year held April 21 through June 11), the culinary team really steps up its game to make foods that are as attractive as they are tasty. One of our favorites is the collection of “flower cupcakes” available at Spotlight Bakery near the park’s entrance. Each flower cupcake is a beautiful work of art that celebrates the natural beauty of the park, which is nestled in the Great Smoky Mountains of East Tennessee. And to bring it full circle, Parton recently collaborated with Duncan Hines’ namesake company, resulting in her very own line of cake, muffin and biscuit mixes.
It must be a Southern thing because I’d never heard of Meat Plus Three, aka M&3, until my friend Mindy Bianca shared with me six restaurants–three in Mobile, Alabama and three in Spartanburg, South Carolina where a meat-centered meal (think fried chicken, catfish, or ribs) comes with three sides.
“By my calculations, that’s six meats and 18 sides,” says Mindy, who used what she calls Mindy Math to come up with that number. “And goodness knows how many gallons of iced tea.”
Now don’t go looking up M&3 because Google will take you to either an ad for a very fancy BMW or a bunch of three-star Michelin restaurants. Now as wonderful as M&3s are, you’re not going to find serious looking people taking little bites of fancy looking food, chewing slowly and then writing notes in leather bound notebooks. If you see that, you’re not in a M&3 restaurant. How do you know? Because anyone at a M&3 is going to be chowing down big time. And if they have to write something down, they do it on a napkin. I mean, we’re talking seriously down-home cooking and just as seriously delicious.
22o Dauphin Street
Mama’s is a fixture in downtown Mobile, a popular spot for local businesspeople on their lunch breaks and visitors checking out the nearby attractions. The restaurant truly believes in supporting other small businesses, so they source their produce from local farmers markets and gear their menus to the seasons. If you want to get real serious about all this, Mindy says that technically, Mama’s is a meat and two, as each entrée comes with just two sides. But she’s giving Mama’s a pass because a lot of those proteins automatically get mashed potatoes and gravy with them/
“That’s why Mama’s makes it to my list of M&3’s,” she says, noting that her pick here is their Meatloaf Monday with mashed taters as part of the entrée. “I suggest adding squash casserole and fried okra as the other sides.
Mindy’s Pro Tip: Order an entrée that comes with mashed potatoes … because you still get two other sides!
203 Dauphin Street
Right down the street from Mama’s, The Noble South is an upscale meat and three, which is an entirely new concept. Afterall, part of the charm of a M&3 are uneven legs on your table or chair (that’s easily fixable by slipping in some sugar packets under the too short leg and yes, sugar packets are another sign of M&3s), cracked linoleum floors—those aren’t fixable with sugar packets so just go with the ambience, or flatware and glassware that doesn’t match. Yelling from the kitchen also counts. So seeing white tablecloths at The Noble South at dinner time was a little off. Could it really be an M&3?
Turns out that Chef/Owner Chris Rainosek has the concept down pat. He offers a “lunch plate” with a changing selection of proteins comes with a choice of one, two or three sides. Of course, all is fresh whether it’s from local farms or the Gulf of Mexico. You do know that Mobile is on the Gulf, right?
Chris changes the menu all the time and everything is good but if fried catfish with sides of heirloom tomatoes, cucumber salad and creamer peas are being offered when you stop by, go for it.
5401 Cottage Hill Road
This meat and three is a bit unconventional, as it’s a mashup of the standard M&3 and a BBQ joint. But don’t judge. You can still do a meat and three … just know that all the meat is smoked in-house and totally cuttable with just a fork. Or, better yet, pulled apart with your fingers.
There’s a six-step process here which can be a little complicated, but you can figure it out. After all, I did and I’m really bad at math.
First you pick your meat, followed by your bread, sauce, basic toppings, the amazing sides, and your drink. Here’s an example: beef brisket with that Alabama specialty–white BBQ sauce—recipe follows), cheddar cheese, sides of slaw, Boss beans, and potato salad; and sweet tea to drink.
It’s really worth the work of figuring out.
1000 N. Pine Street, Spartanburg
This is the quintessential meat and three and an absolute legend in South Carolina’s Upstate. Wade and Betty Lindsay opened a small grocery store on this site in 1947 and by the 1970s it had become a full-fledged meat and three. Wade’s is known far and wide for its fried chicken but the chicken pot pie is wonderful and not something you typically find at a M&3. Whether you go for the pot pie or the chicken, you definitely have to order the sweet potato souffle. And since carbs don’t count when you’re on the road, go with the navy beans and creamed corn. Then comes another hard choice—corn bread or yeast rolls. I know, it’s tough. But keep in mind that Wade’s serves some 3500 yeast rolls a day. That’s how good there are.
2000 S.J. Workman Highway, Woodruff
When you get outside of Spartanburg, don’t bother with a map. Just follow the aroma of a wood burning smoker coming from the direction of tiny Woodruff. There’s not much to see at Mustard Seed BBQ—it’s just a little building with a big parking lot. But it’s home to a BBQ/Meat and Many (think Meat Boss in Mobile). The restaurant hosts their famous Soul Food Sunday Buffet. There’s no limit to the number of sides you can get or how many refills you can ask for. and the standard BBQ menu expands to include fried chicken and fish as well as such favorites as mac and cheese, collards, and banana pudding.
Just don’t be shy. No one’s really counting and if they are, well—you’re just passing through, they won’t see you again.
1136 E. Blackstock, Moore
On your world tour of meat and threes, stop by Charlene’s on a Thursday, Friday, Saturday or Sunday. But don’t mix up the days, because she’s not open the other three days of the week. All in all, that’s probably good news as otherwise we’d have to hit the gym even more often. Charlene and Mike Davis use recipes from Charlene’s family headed by matriarch Ma Bessie. You just got to know she knows how to cook. The restaurant claims, “soul food just like Grandma’s” and I’m totally into that. But just for the record—and honesty’s sake–MY grandma, after raising six kids, never cooked again so what do I know about Grandma’s cooking but she did take up drinking and the occasional cigarette but you get the idea). If Charlene were my grandma, though, I certainly would want seconds, no make that thirds of heaping helpings of her fried seafood platter along with sides of fried green tomatoes, black-eyed peas and yum-yippity yams.
Still made using Eugenia Duke’s original recipe dating back to 1917, Duke’s is the Southern king of mayonnaise. Eugenia, who lived in Greenville, South Carolina, made sandwiches in her home kitchen and sold them to army canteens during World War I. They were such a hit that even years later soldiers were still writing to Eugenia asking for her sandwich recipes and jars of her mayonnaise. So in 1923, she started putting it in a bottle and it remains a favorite to this day. Note to Northerners who can’t find Duke’s at the grocery store. You can order it or substitute Hellmann’s. The tastes are slightly different but it works.
- 1 cup Duke’s Mayonnaise
- 1/3 cup apple cider vinegar
- Juice of 1 large lemon
- 2 Tbsp. white balsamic vinegar
- 1/4 tsp. granulated garlic
- 1/2 tsp. salt
- 1 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
- 2 1/2 tsp. prepared horseradish
- 1 tsp. ground mustard powder
- 1/4 tsp. paprika
- 1/4 tsp. ground cayenne pepper
- 1/2 tsp. white sugar
- 1 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
- Additional pepper to taste
In a medium bowl, whisk all ingredients together to combine.
Refrigerate until ready to serve.
Pour over grilled or smoked chicken or use as a dip or dressing.