Southern Fish and Oyster, a local, family-owned seafood shop in Mobile, Alabama opened its doors for the first time in 1934. The Atkins family purchased it in 1952, and at age 13, Ralph Atkins, Jr. started working there when he was just 13 years old. From that point forward, Ralph Atkins, Jr. spent his entire life providing fresh Gulf seafood to customers all over the country.
As modernity crept in on the people of Mobile, the local governments became less interested in caring for and protecting the livelihoods of local residents, and became more concerned with reeling in the big bucks from foreign shipping companies and large corporations that promised to bring prosperity to Mobile County and the Gulf Coast Region. They began dredging the the Bay to allow large container ships and other super-sized vessels to enter its waters. These practices alone led to a significant decline in the number of oysters and other seafood harvested from the Bay, and placed an incredible burden on the local fishermen and others who depended on the Bay for their livelihoods.
As big business moved in, the little man was pushed out. The quality of the water and the air began to decrease. Freshwater wetlands began to die, leaving the area vulnerable to storms and floods. As the bottom of the Bay became more and more disturbed by dredging efforts, the local fish and oyster populations became choked. Before he knew it, Ralph Atkins, Jr.'s little shop at 1 Eslava Street was swallowed up in the shadows of large buildings, and it seemed the sun was beginning to set on Southern Fish and Oyster. The final blow came in 2018, when the Alabama Department of Transportation filed a petition to condemn the property on which Ralph's business stood. It was later reported ALDOT was attempting to buy Ralph's land so they could demolish his business to make room for the a new bridge, one that is estimated to cost taxpayers upwards of $2 billion. They needed to place a leg of the bridge right where Ralph's business stood. Ralph said he'd sell his property for $10 million. ALDOT refused. He agreed to sell for $5 million if they agreed to name the new bridge after him. ALDOT refused. Instead, they chose to have a real estate agent come and appraise the property, who said it was worth $675,000. According to the newest available information, by the time Ralph had decided to accept the offer, ALDOT had already taken steps to snatch the land from under him by way of the State's power of eminent domain.
Despite public outcry, plans for the new bridge continue to go on behind closed doors. Local residents are hushed and told that the bridge will go on with or without their approval. The government of the State of Alabama has forgotten why they hold their respective offices, that we the people put them there, a decision that many of us now regret and will not repeat.
This is a petition to the Alabama Department of Transportation. the Alabama Legislature, and the Governor of Alabama, that if the new bridge is built, it be named after Ralph Atkins, Jr. Without the one-third of an acre plot on which Ralph Atkins built his life, this bridge would not be possible. The State owes this whole project to Ralph and his family. We locals despise the fact that we will have to pay a toll to cross this bridge, but Ralph had to give up his way of life, one that he lived for 52 years and 11 months, in the name of "progress." Ralph Atkins, Jr. is truly one of a quickly vanishing breed of people, and if they're going to build this bridge, I want to make sure it doesn't bear the name of some greedy Alabama politician. Instead, I want to make sure every time someone thinks of this bridge, they think of Ralph Atkins, Jr, and the sacrifices he was forced to make so that it might be completed.