King Kpoto-Zounme Hakpon III of Porto-Novo, a province of the West African republic of Benin, will arrive as a guest of the Cunningham family.
The large, extended family has roots in the oldest incorporated all-black town in Alabama, and will be holding their 75th family reunion this week in Oxford.
Hobson City mayor Alberta McCrory said she’s excited for what the royal visit may mean for her town.
Hakpon’s trip is not just for show. A press release on the visit states that he plans to establish a “Sister-city partnership between historic Hobson City and the capital city of his kingdom — Porto-Novo.”
McCrory said it isn’t clear just what that may mean for her town, and hasn’t spoken to Hakpon yet, but she expressed enthusiasm over the possibilities.
“I do want to read up on him some more, just become more knowledgeable about how we may enter into a partnership,” McCrory said. “I certainly think it would be a good thing for this community.”
Joyce Hope Scott is associate professor of American studies at Wheelock College in Boston, and is a member of the Cunningham family.
Scott met Hakpon as a Fulbright professor in Benin in 2002. The Fulbright program provides grants to students and instructors so they may study and teach overseas.
Later, she developed a study-abroad program for her college and travels with her students to Benin each year.
Hakpon visited Boston in 2008 and spoke at a conference at Wheelock College. He’ll do the same this week, and will arrive in Oxford on Thursday to take part in the family celebration.
He’ll visit Hobson City Saturday morning to meet with residents and town officials.
Scott said modern-day Porto-Novo is no longer governed by kings. That role has been replaced by a democratically-elected mayor, she said, but the new government works with the former, monarchical form.
“The old structure has remained intact in that country,” Scott said. “He is still the king of Porto-Novo.”
The Republic of Benin is a former French colony, but prior to that, was called the Kingdom of Dahomey, where Hakpon’s ancestors controlled the slave trade along the coast of West Africa.
In his 2008 trip, Hakpon said his goal was to apologize for his ancestors’ role in the slave trade, and to build bridges that would reconnect people of African descent to their heritage.
Hakpon’s interest in Hobson City is its history, and its connection to the Cunningham family, Scott said.
Staff writer Eddie Burkhalter: 256-235-3563. On Twitter @Burkhalter_Star.