Revolver Likely Used By Van Gogh Sells In Paris

This undated recent photo provided by Drouot auction house shows the revolver believed to have been used by Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh to take his own life. The revolver has been sold at auction.

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Stephane Briolant/AP

The gun believed to have been used by Dutch painter Vincent Van Gogh to take his own life was sold at the Drouot auction house in Paris.

The unnamed buyer bought the corroded 7mm caliber Lefaucheux revolver for 162,500 euros, about $182,000 U.S. dollars. The gun’s trigger is pulled back, frozen in place, some think cementing the moment in which it would have dropped from Van Gogh’s grasp.

Its purchase has reignited the debate over whether or not Van Gogh died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

In 1960, the weapon was found by a farmer in the French village of Auvers-sur-Oise, just north of Paris, reports NPR’s Eleanor Beardsley. It is here, Van Gogh is widely believed to have shot himself in the chest.

For years experts have questioned the theory of Van Gogh’s death, pointing to the uncertainty of the angle of the shot, the disappearance of evidence and the long trek the wounded Van Gogh would have made back to the inn before he died two days later in the hospital. Some researchers argue that Van Gogh was accidentally shot by two young boys playing with a gun near him.

Members of the family that once owned the inn, where Van Gogh stayed, decided to put the weapon up for sale after it was featured in a 2016 exhibit, at Amsterdam’s Van Gogh Museum, in which the artist’s decline into mental illness was the focus, reports The Associated Press.

Van Gogh was long known to have a turbulent emotional life, plagued by bouts of unpredictable illnesses that would hinder him from working for days and weeks at a time. After he had cut off his entire ear, neighbors reportedly petitioned to have him committed.

However during the period when he lived with his brother Theo, an art dealer, who encouraged his painting and introduced him to the works of impressionist artists, Van Gogh’s work would be influenced by Claude Monet, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Georges Seurat and Paul Gauguin. Having witnessed a new form of painting, he tried mirroring their techniques by swapping out his dark palette for short brush strokes, according to the Van Gogh Gallery.

In 1888 Van Gogh left Theo’s home and moved to the South of France, where he rented rooms in the Yellow House in Arles. His dream of building an artists’ colony where he welcomed friends to stay wasn’t as successful as he’d hoped. Paul Gauguin was the only artist to join him. Van Gogh was highly productive during this period and spent a lot of time working in his studio.

Ultimately, frequent disagreements about art ensued between he and Gauguin. As tensions grew, the distraught Van Gogh suffered from a mental breakdown, many say resulting in the now infamous story of his rived ear. This was one of several severe breakdowns that haunted him until his passing.

Van Gogh painted about 70 works of art in the two months before his death on July 29, 1890.

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Four Suspects Named And Face Murder Charges In Flight MH17 Shoot Down

Dutch National Police chief Wilbert Paulissen speaks Wednesday at a news conference in the Netherlands. International investigators accused four people of being involved in the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 in eastern Ukraine.

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International investigators have accused three Russians and one Ukrainian of taking part in the attack on Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, a passenger plane that was shot down nearly five years ago, killing all 298 people on board. They will face murder charges for their alleged involvement in the tragedy.

The plane left Amsterdam for Kuala Lumpur on July 17, 2014. It crashed over eastern Ukraine, a smoldering wreckage of civilian parts in the midst of a battle between Ukrainian security forces and Russia-back separatists.

At a press conference on Wednesday in the Netherlands, Assistant Commissioner of the Australian Federal Police Peter Crozier called the international probe “one of the most complex criminal investigations ever to be conducted.”

The Joint Investigation Team showed photos of the suspects and played a wiretapped phone call as evidence. They said that each Russian suspect had ties to their country’s intelligence services:

  • One of the suspects was named as Igor Girkin, a former colonel of Russia’s domestic intelligence service and a commander of the army where the plane was downed in the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic. “The rebels did not shoot down the Boeing,” he told Reuters.
  • Another suspect, Sergey Dubinskiy, is a former officer of Russia’s military intelligence service. He was a deputy to Girkin in 2014 and led the territory’s intelligence service.
  • Oleg Pulatov is a former soldier with the spetsnaz, an elite unit of the Russian military intelligence agency. Pulatov worked with Dubinskiy as deputy head of the intelligence service.

The sole Ukrainian suspect was identified as Leonid Kharchenko, the commander of a combat unit in Donetsk.

Investigators also announced their intent to prosecute the suspects. The Netherlands Public Prosecution Service issued international arrest warrants on Wednesday. Court hearings were scheduled for March 9, 2020 in The Hague.

Authorities will not seek to extradite the four men because Russian and Ukrainian constitutions bar extradition of their citizens, prosecutors said. Instead, they plan to ask Moscow to arrest and interrogate the three Russian suspects. They could be tried in absentia, as the Dutch appear wary that Russia will cooperate.

Ukrainian authorities vowed to detain the Ukrainian suspect who is believed to still be in their purview, according to Reuters.

The Joint Investigation Team was established in 2014, with the Netherlands National Prosecutor’s Office leading the international effort to piece together what happened that day.

The team’s work shows no sign of stopping. Investigators asked more witnesses to come forward to help them identify people responsible for MH17’s downfall.

They concluded in 2016 that the plane was brought down by a Russian Buk missile which had been transported from Russia to an agricultural field in Ukraine’s rebel-held territory. That finding followed a Dutch Safety Board investigation that also pointed to a Russian Buk missile.

The announcement on Wednesday was offset by an article from investigative group Bellingcat. It listed additional people suspected of involvement in the incident. A Bellingcat team previously linked an anti-aircraft missile launcher to Russia’s 53rd air defense brigade – years before the Dutch-led investigation came to the same conclusion.

Moscow has long denied any role in the fate of the flight. Officials have been critical of the international investigation, claiming that they were excluded at the outset.

Speaking to reporters this week, Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said, “Russia was unable to take part in the investigation despite expressing an interest right from the start and trying to join it.”

A host of unfounded explanations about the plane emerged in Russian media, including conspiracy theories that the plane was already carrying dead passengers and that the incident was a failed attempt to assassinate Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Most of the victims in the crash were Dutch. Others came from countries including Belgium, Malaysia and Australia. Law enforcement from those countries, and Ukraine, have been involved in the investigation.

News of the impending prosecution was welcomed by global leaders, including Australia’s Foreign Minister Marise Payne, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy and British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt, who called on Russia to cooperate.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg called it “an important milestone in the efforts to uncover the full truth,” and ensure justice for all 298 victims.

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Pilots Criticize Boeing, Saying 737 MAX ‘Should Never Have Been Approved’

Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger, accompanied by other pilots and former FAA administrator Randy Babbitt, speaks during a House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure hearing on the status of the Boeing 737 MAX on Capitol Hill in Washington.

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One of the nation’s best known airline pilots is speaking out on the problems with Boeing’s 737 MAX jetliner. Retired Capt. Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger told a congressional subcommittee Wednesday that an automated flight control system on the 737 MAX “was fatally flawed and should never have been approved.”

Sullenberger, who safely landed a damaged US Airways jet on the Hudson River in New York in 2009 after a bird strike disabled the engines, says he understands how the pilots of two 737 Max planes that recently crashed would have been confused as they struggled to maintain control of the aircraft, as an automated system erroneously began forcing the planes into nose dives.

“I can tell you first hand that the startle factor is real and it’s huge. It absolutely interferes with one’s ability to quickly analyze the crisis and take corrective action,” he said.

The House Aviation Subcommittee is investigating the crashes of Boeing 737 Max jets in Indonesia last fall and in Ethiopia in March that killed a total of 346 people. The panel is also examining what role, if any, Boeing’s rush to develop the latest version of it’s popular 737 and the FAA’s process of certifying the new model as airworthy may have played in the tragedies.

The planes remain out of service as aviation authorities around the world grounded the planes shortly after the second crash. The three U.S. airlines that flew the MAX —Southwest, American and United— have canceled thousands of flights as they have pulled MAX planes from their schedules through the busy summer months.

Boeing says it has now completed a software fix for the automated system called MCAS, which investigators say appears to be at least partly to blame in the crashes.

“These crashes are demonstrable evidence that our current system of aircraft design and certification failed us,” Sullenberger told lawmakers. “The accidents should never have happened.”

Daniel Carey, president of the Allied Pilots Association, which represents pilots at American Airlines, noted Boeing’s strong safety record generally, but he criticized the aerospace giant for making “many mistakes” in order to reduce costs, while still developing the MAX plane so that it would feel as much like the previous version of the 737.

“Boeing designs and engineers and manufacturers superb aircraft,” Carey testified. “Unfortunately in the case of the MAX, I’ll have to agree with the Boeing CEO, they let the traveling public down in a fatal and catastrophic way.”

Carey told the committee that the MCAS flight control system, which was designed to prevent an aerodynamic stall, was flawed in that it had a single point of failure without redundancies. In the case of both the Lion Air flight in Indonesia and the Ethiopian Airlines plane, a single angle of attack sensor provided faulty data to the system, so the MCAS forcefully and repeatedly pointed the nose of the plane down when it shouldn’t have.

“A huge error of omission was the fact that Boeing failed to disclose the existence of the MCAS system to the pilot community around the world,” Carey said. “The final fatal mistake was therefore the absence of robust pilot training in the event of an MCAS failure.”

Carey says Boeing’s failures have created a “crisis of trust” between the airplane maker and pilots.

As Boeing prepares to submit it’s software fix for the MCAS system to the FAA for the agency to conduct test flights and ultimately re-certify the plane, which could happen within the next couple of weeks, both Carey and Sullenberger called for more robust pilot training as part of the plan for allowing 737 MAX jets to fly passengers again, including experiencing an MCAS system failure while training on a simulator.

Boeing has suggested such training could be accomplished with a one hour session on a laptop or tablet device. Simulator training was not required for pilots transitioning from the previous “Next Generation” version of the 737 to the MAX.

Sullenberger says he recently experienced scenarios similar to those facing the pilots of the doomed Ethiopian and Lion Air jetliners in a simulator, and says he understands the difficulties they had trying to maintain control of the planes. “Even knowing what was going to happen, I could see how crews could have run out of time and altitude before they could have solved the problems,” he said.

“We should all want pilots to experience these challenging situations for the first time in a simulator, not in flight with passengers and crew on board,” Sullenberger told lawmakers, adding “reading about it on an iPad is not even close to sufficient. Pilots must experience it physically, firsthand.”

But there are few 737 MAX simulators in existence, and providing such training for thousands of pilots around the world would be costly and logistically problematic.

He and Carey dismissed suggestions that the crashes could not have happened in the U.S., where pilots are required to have a lot of experience and more rigorous training before flying commercial airliners.

“Some (U.S.) crews would have recognized it in time to recover, but some would not have,” Carey testified. Sullenberger agreed, saying it’s unlikely that more experienced pilots would have had different outcomes, adding, “we shouldn’t have to expect pilots to compensate for flawed designs.”

“These two recent crashes happened in foreign countries,” said Sullenberger. “But if we do not address all the important issues and factors, they can and will happen here.”

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72 Philadelphia Police Officers Placed On Desk Duty Over Offensive Social Media Posts

Philadelphia Police Commissioner Richard Ross announced on Wednesday that 72 officers have been placed on administrative duty following an investigation into inflammatory social media posts.

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The Philadelphia Police Department has pulled 72 officers off their regular duties as authorities investigate inflammatory social media posts revealed in a database that found thousands of offensive postings by current and former officers, the city’s police commissioner said Wednesday.

Police officials in Philadelphia are describing the action as the largest removal of officers from the street in recent memory.

“We are equally as disgusted by many of the posts that you saw and in many cases, the rest of the nation saw,” said Philadelphia Police Commissioner Richard Ross.

It is the latest fallout since the advocacy group The Plain View Project earlier this month released thousands of Facebook posts and comments by current and former police officers that range from racist memes, to posts celebrating violence and messages containing Islamophobic themes, among other offensive material.

Since the data dump, internal affairs officials in police departments including Phoenix, St. Louis and Dallas are probing whether the distasteful and sometimes violent material should warrant disciplinary action or terminations.

In Philadelphia, Ross said Wednesday that at least “several dozen” of the 72 officers now on desk duty will be disciplined and others will be fired, but he did not provide specifics, including any of the names of those who have been taken off of their regular duties.

“We’ve talked about from the outset how disturbing, how disappointing and upsetting these posts are,” Ross told reporter at the police department’s headquarters. “They will undeniably impact police-community relations.”

David Rudovsky, longtime Philadelphia civil rights lawyer who focuses on police misconduct, called the decision to place 72 officers on desk duty “significant,” saying the social media posts appear to show conduct that is inconsistent with the department’s promise of fair and equal treatment for all residents.

Rudovsky told NPR, “More important will be the future decisions regarding sanctions or other measures to deal with this widespread problem in the police department.”

The research project tracking officers’ use of social media flagged offensive material posted by about 2,900 current officers, some in supervisor roles, and posts by hundreds of former police officers across eight police departments.

The database, first reported on by BuzzFeed and Injustice Watch, was undertaken by Philadelphia lawyer Emily Baker-White, who compiled the trove of postings in an effort to examine whether the online behavior could undermine public trust in police and make it more difficult for officers to work with minority communities.

After looking through the postings, Ross said some of the bigoted content will indeed compromise confidence in the city’s police department.

“This puts us in a position to work even harder than we already do to cultivate relationships with neighborhoods and individual groups that we struggle to work with or struggle to maintain relationships with now,” said Ross, noting that the postings tarnish the police department’s reputation.

“We will work tirelessly to repair that reputation,” he added.

The scandal has implicated more than 300 officers in Philadelphia, a city that has some 6,500 active police officers.

It would not be fair, Ross said, to assume all officers are biased because of the Facebook activities of a fraction of the department.

“There are many, many thousands who don’t think like this and who wouldn’t engage in this kind of behavior,” Ross said. “Wouldn’t make sense to assume that everybody is a racist and everybody is Islamophobic and everybody is a sexist, because they’re not,” he said.

The department has hired the private law firm Ballard Spahr to sift through the 3,100 posts identified as containing offensive messages. The firm will help determine if the post was protected under the First Amendment, or not, Ross said.

Additionally, anti-bias and anti-racist training will be conducted across the department and officers will be reminded of what constitutes appropriate behavior on social media, according to Ross. Officials will also launch periodic audits of police officers’ social media accounts.

The department’s social media policy prohibits profanity, discriminatory language or personal insults.

The 72 officers placed on desk duty represents the largest removal of Philadelphia police officers from the streets over a single investigation, Ross said.

“I can’t think of any other investigation that we’ve undertaken, at least in my 30 years, with that many people taken off the street at one time,” he said.

Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney has called the officers’ Facebook postings “extremely disturbing.”

“The content of the social media posts are antithetical to our administration’s values and simply won’t be tolerated,” said Kenney’s spokeswoman Deana Gamble. “He is confident that the Commissioner will discipline officers accordingly when the investigation concludes.”

The Philadelphia NAACP has called on Ross to fire officers who are found to have published objectionable material.

While Ross refused to say how many officers will be terminated at the end of the department’s investigation, he said the posts will cause some law enforcement officials to lose their jobs.

“There are some, sadly,” Ross said. “who won’t return to service here.”

WHYY’s Max Marin contributed to this report.

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Putting A Price On Chat: Slack Is Going Public At $16 Billion Value

Slack Technologies is going public Thursday. In the fiscal year that ended Jan. 31, the company nearly doubled its revenues, to about $400 million. But it had a net loss of nearly $139 million.

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In just five years, Slack has grown to more than 10 million users and become a verb in the process. “I’ll Slack you” is shorthand for sending a message via the workplace chat platform.

On Thursday, the company will take that popularity to the New York Stock Exchange where its shares will be publicly listed for the first time.

At a starting price of $26 per share set Wednesday, Slack Technologies would be worth about $16 billion.

Instead of a conventional initial public offering, Slack will enter into the market as a direct listing, which means the shares will simply be listed on the New York Stock Exchange. Most firms that pass on an IPO are widely known companies that are in good financial shape.

As Fortune explains:

“Unlike an ordinary IPO, a direct listing means the company doesn’t issue any new shares and doesn’t raise additional capital. It’s primarily a way for company insiders to sell some of their holdings to investors, while bypassing the formidable fees and requirements of using an underwriter.”

Spotify, the music streaming company, went public as a direct listing last year.

In the fiscal year that ended Jan. 31, Slack nearly doubled its revenues, to about $400 million. But it had a net loss of nearly $139 million.

As it continues to grow, Slack’s biggest hurdle will be proving to its users that it’s more than just a chat application.

Forrester Analyst Michael Facemire says it’s hard for users to understand why the platform is more useful than other chat applications without trying it for themselves. With Microsoft Teams as a major competitor, Slack is facing pressure to distinguish itself in the market.

“If the world were only composed of technologists, and developers and Silicon Valley illuminati, then Slack would be far, far ahead,” Facemire said. “There is a large percentage of the population that isn’t that. This is where tools like Microsoft Teams do just as well.”

Slack’s decision to begin trading as a direct listing follows a wobbly start for Uber, one of the most anticipated initial public offerings in the tech sector. Last month, the ride-hailing company reported a $1 billion loss in its first public financial report, just weeks after its IPO.

Slack, which was publicly released in 2014, stemmed from an internal chat platform created by CEO Stewart Butterfield during a failed video game development. The software was created to avoid the confusion of email and, per its acronym, provide a “Searchable Log of All Conversation and Knowledge” for the team, which had people working all over North America.

Butterfield co-founded Flickr, which he sold to Yahoo for around $25 million in 2005. But, despite interest from Amazon, Google and Microsoft in 2017, he held onto Slack, which continued to compete with emerging chat platforms.

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Alabama’s Africatown Hopes For Revival After Slave Ship Discovery

A housing project stands abandoned in the Africatown community in Mobile, Ala.

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The recent discovery of the remains of the last slave ship to the United States is bringing hope of revival to Africatown. It’s a small community in Mobile, Ala., founded by African captives brought on the Clotilde, thought to have arrived sometime in 1859 or 1860.

Lorna Woods’ great-great-grandfather, Charlie Lewis, was brought to Mobile on the Clotilde. Now she tells his story as a volunteer with the local history museum.

“I tell people … they didn’t come here as free men; they came in chains,” she says, standing on the downtown corner that was once the city’s slave market.

Woods holds up the rusty shackles she found under an old box spring in her grandmother’s house.

“This wasn’t anything nice,” she says. “These are the slave chains that were on their legs and hands.”

Woods says for a long time, mostly out of fear, her ancestors kept the story of the Clotilde closely guarded. She learned about it sitting on her grandmother’s front porch in Africatown — a community just north of downtown settled by the West Africans smuggled here on the Clotilde.

“They built that little town from just about nothing — just from the bushes and trees they cut down,” says Woods. “They made a place where they could carry on their history from Africa. And their children would be able to see they wasn’t lazy … but they had a lot of pride.”

Interest in Africatown has been on the rise since Clotilde survivor Cudjoe Lewis’s story was the subject of last year’s bestseller Barracoon by Zora Neale Hurston, published after her death.

A vandalized bust remains on display at what was the Africatown Welcome Center in Mobile, Ala.

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Now the discovery last month of the shipwreck in the Mobile River is bringing new attention.

“The whole story was never told,” Woods says. “But by them finding the ship, this gave clarity to the whole story.”

Eric Finley has been telling the story as a docent for the Dora Franklin Finley African-American Heritage trail in Mobile.

“It was the result of a rich white plantation owner … he made a bet with another white plantation owner that he could bring in 100 illegal individuals,” Finley explains as he drives a van along the riverfront where the schooner Clotilde smuggled enslaved Africans more than 50 years after the U.S. had outlawed the slave trade.

Standing on the downtown corner that was once the city’s slave market, Lorna Woods holds up the rusty shackles she found under an old box spring in her grandmother’s house.

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Debbie Elliott/NPR

The story goes the plantation owner, a wealthy ship builder and businessman named Timothy Meaher hired a captain to make the trip to what is now the country of Benin, Africa.

“They head back to the United States,” Finley continues the story. “Federal authorities got word that someone was trying to sneak in 100 illegal kidnapped individuals. So they were on the lookout for the Clotilda.”

To avoid capture, Finley says, Meaher had the slaves brought inland to hide in the swamp. The Clotilde was scuttled upriver, and set afire to hide any evidence.

He says federal prosecutors opened an investigation but never brought the case to trial with the impending Civil War.

“It is a very difficult story,” says Joycelyn Davis, a 6th generation Clotilde descendant.

“My family was brought over illegally,” she says. “On a bet. Naked.”

Davis says she heard stories about the Clotilde growing up in Africatown, but didn’t really embrace it.

“Honestly I was a little ashamed about the story,” she admits, noting the role of Africans in the slave trade.

“There was a dispute between two tribes – our own people — and they sold us,” Davis says. “That’s the shame that I had.”

Now Davis says she’s is working to preserve the history here, and honor the legacy of her ancestor Charlie Lewis, one of the founders of Africatown.

“It’s important for me to pass it on,” she says. “Do you know what Charlie went through coming over here? Do you know that he survived all of that – persevered, worked hard, they built their own homes, a community, a church, and a school. Off of nothing. All they had was each other.”

Today she says there are obstacles to reckoning with the story of the Clotilde.

“We have the old south, where people just don’t want to talk about slavery,” Davis says.

Africatown is surrounded by a paper mill, chemical plants and oil storage tanks.

It’s bordered on three sides by water — including the Mobile River. Residents here have filed a lawsuit over industrial pollution.

Joycelyn Davis crosses the major highway that now cuts through the middle of Africatown to a sloping hillside where sprawling oak trees shade gray stone grave markers.

“One thing that Cudjoe and the other survivors of the Clotilde, they all wanted to go back home to Africa,” Davis says. “So the cemetery faces east towards Africa.”

Davis says after Emancipation, Timothy Meaher would not provide his former slaves passage back to Africa. They continued to work on plantations and at his paper mill to earn enough money to buy the land that became Africatown.

Meaher’s descendants still own the surrounding property, and there’s a Meaher state park named for the family on Mobile Bay.

“Everything around here belongs to them,” she says. “You know so they have been ever present all of my life.”

Descendants of Timothy Meaher declined to speak about the discovery of the Clotilde. Davis and other descendants of the enslaved Africans say they’d like to meet with the Meaher family to hear their side of history.

Darron Patterson’s great-great grandfather Pollee Allen was on the Clotilde. Patterson, in his 60s now, has seen Africatown struggle.

“It’s not what it used to be,” he says. “When I was when I was small and growing up there … it was a community that was self-contained. We had stores and barber shops and post offices, you know, and gas stations and drugstores.”

Over the years, he says, it has seen its share of down times.

Eric Finley leads tours for the Dora Franklin Finley African-American Heritage trail in Mobile. He drives a van along the riverfront where the schooner the Clotilde smuggled enslaved Africans more than 50 years after the U.S. had outlawed the slave trade.

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Debbie Elliott/NPR

The commerce is gone now, and you see boarded up homes and vacant lots in the neighborhood. The population has declined from about 12,000 in the 1960s to less than 2,000 today. In 2012, Africatown was listed on the National Register of Historic Places but little came of the designation.

Now, Paterson is hopeful the blight and neglect will end with the discovery of the ship.

“The pride now that is being regenerated by what’s happened with the Clotilde is amazing.”

There’s talk of redeveloping the town, and opening a museum to house a replica of the Clotilde. The state has allocated $3.5 million from its BP oil spill settlement to build an Africatown welcome center. The old one was washed away by Hurricane Katrina in 2005, and the property is overrun with weeds and litter. And the National Park Service is planning a waterfront park in the community.

But Patterson says revitalization isn’t enough.

“What justice now?” he asks. “If there was a lack of evidence against Timothy Meaher then and this boat actually turns out to be the evidence that there were slaves brought here illegally, what do we do now? There has got to be something that happens.”

Mobile attorney and city judge Karlos Finley says descendants may have a case for reparations.

“What the ship does is it takes the story out of the realm of lore,” Finley says. “You see prior to the ship being discovered there were people who could argue that ‘oh, that’s just old wives tales here, that didn’t really happen.'”

The shipwreck remains in the murky waters of the Mobile River, under guard now, an “irreplaceable cultural treasure” according to the Alabama Historical Commission.

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