One of the last ships to illegally transport African slaves to America has been found at the bottom of a river in Alabama.
The Clotilda was one of the last ships known to have smuggled enslaved Africans into the United States decades after slavery had been abolished. However, the ship was discovered in Alabama at the bottom of the Mobile River and providing “tangible evidence of slavery”, the BBC reports.
According to National Geographic, Timothy Meaher, “a wealthy landowner and shipbuilder from Mobile is said to have made a bet with northern businessmen that he could smuggle a cargo of African slaves into Mobile Bay under the nose of federal officials.” The bet was for $1000.
“This new discovery brings the tragedy of slavery into focus while witnessing the triumph and resilience of the human spirit in overcoming the horrific crime that led to the establishment of Africatown,” Lisa Demetropoulos Jones, executive director of AHC, said.
After the Civil War, the Africans smuggled into the U.S on the Clotilda wanted to go back to their hometown of Benin, but couldn’t afford the trip. They instead purchased small plots of land and formed their own tight-knit community in Alabama called Africatown.
Africatown remains a working-class community of about 2,000 people north of downtown Mobile where the community spoke their native language for decades, Essence reports. While much of black history has been erased and forgotten, Africatown’s predecessors told their children about the Clotilda and the brutal violence and dehumanization their ancestors experienced.
Charlie Lewis is the great-great-grandfather of an Africatown resident and the oldest of the enslaved Africans on board the ship. While he told of the Clotilda, naysayers would often dismiss the story as nothing but family myths.
“This is the proof that we needed,” his great-great granddaughter said. “I am elated because so many people said that it didn’t really happen that way, that we made the story up.”
The discovered wreckage provides “tangible evidence of slavery”, Jones said.
Oluale Kossola was renamed Cudjo Lewis (or Cudjoe Lewis), in the United States, and was one of the last living Clotilda survivors and pioneers of Africatown. In 1927, at the age of 86, he shared his experience with author, journalist, playwright, and anthropologist Zora Neale Hurston. His story was included in her posthumous book, Barracoon. Kossola died in 1935 and had his bones buried in Africatown.
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