USA Hosting Special Exhibit on Archaeology and Oral History

Posted on February 6, 2024
Joy Washington

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The Unwritten Archaeology and Oral History Exhibit can be seen during Black History Month and through the end of April at the USA Archaeology Museum. From left, USA Professor of Anthropology and Chief Calvin McGhee Professor of Native American Studies Dr. Philip Carr; South’s Director of the African American Studies Program Dr. Kern Jackson, USA President Jo Bonner; and Jennifer Knutson, assistant director of the USA Archaeology Museum on the opening night of the exhibit.

A special exhibit, “Unwritten: Archaeology and Oral History of Jim Crow Mobile,” highlighting the lives of the Lewis, Owens and Griffin families during segregation, is open at the University of South Alabama Archaeology Museum.

The exhibit can be viewed now, during Black History Month, and through the end of April. The museum is open Tuesday-Friday from 10 a.m.-4 p.m. at 6050 USA South Drive. Admission is free and open to the public.

“We are excited to offer a broader audience to these stories. The exhibit introduces three families who lived in different parts of Mobile but who shared much in common. As Black families, they endured Jim Crow segregation,” said Jennifer Knutson, assistant director of the USA Archaeology Museum. “They all owned homes at a time when many African Americans did not. And, archaeologists have excavated their homes. In the mid-20th century, development transformed their neighborhood, erasing homes, schools and shops from the landscape. Although their homes are no longer standing, we can learn about their stories through archaeology and oral history in this exhibit.”

The exhibit is built on decades of past and current work by South scholars. USA Professor of Anthropology and Chief Calvin McGhee Professor of Native American Studies Dr. Philip Carr helped uncover the Owens family's home as part of the Down the Bay excavations during the Mobile I-10 River Bridge Project. The USA McCall Archives Down the Bay Oral History Project continues to record the stories of the community. 

In the 1990s, South archaeologists excavated the Griffin Family's home before the Calloway-Smith Middle School construction near historic Davis Avenue.

The College of William & Mary excavated the Africatown home site of Peter Lee and the Lewis family in 2010. Artifacts from these excavations can be seen by the public for the first time after their transfer to USA in 2021. South’s Director of the African American Studies Program Dr. Kern Jackson, whose work documenting the stories of the Africatown community for decades, also made this exhibit possible.

“Part of a larger project funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities includes the in-person exhibit at the museum and an online one for virtual visitors,” said Knutson. “People will be able to see the exhibit in their local communities as a traveling exhibit in addition to the virtual one, which will be available later this spring.”

Since the exhibit opened in Sept. 2023, 3600 people have visited.  In September and October, the USA Archaeology Museum hosted a speaker series that accompanied the exhibit. Another speaker series is planned for March and April. The campus and Mobile communities are encouraged to follow the museum on social media, Facebook: @TheAechaeologyMuseum, and Instagram: @SouthArchaeology.

“Unwritten” 2024 Spring Lecture Series at the USA Archaeology Museum:

  • April 2, 3:30 p.m.: “Archaeology & Oral History of Down The Bay,” speakers Dr. Philip Carr; Rachel Hines, USA Center for
  • Archaeological Studies; and Ryan Morini, USA Marx Library, McCall Archives
  • April 3, 3:30 p.m.: “Where is the Parity: Exploring the Gap Between Health Disparities and Health Equities,” speakers Tiquera Hall, USA College of Medicine
  • April 10, 3:30 p.m.: “Memory of the Civil Rights Movement in Mobile,” Dr. David Messenger, USA Department of History
  • April 30, 3:30 p.m.: “Black History Under Ground,” Tracy Neely, Alabama Cemetery Preservation Alliance
  • April 9, 6 p.m.: “Documenting the Historic Plateau Africatown Cemetery,” Alexandra Jones, Archaeology in the Community.

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