By now, those who have been following the story of the recent discovery of what seemed almost certain to be the remains of the Clotilda,
the last known vessel to bring African captives, illegally, into the U.S. (whose survivors established Africatown
, near Mobile, AL, where descendants still live) have learned that the wreck being investigated has now been revealed by closer examination not to be the Clotilda
, but a much larger, and evidently newer vessel.
In many ways, this is a disappointment, as the remains, mostly buried in mud, discovered some weeks ago as a result of record low tides, were thought to be almost certainly the Clotilda,
which had been burned to the waterline and sunk, in an attempt to hide the evidence of her illegal mission, evidently close to the location of this find, based on what scarce records and oral history are known, because the finding of the actual vessel in which Africatown’s
Ancestors made the horrific ocean crossing would have been an extremely valuable tangible link to the past, not only for those descendants but for the nation and the world as well. (The ambassador of the Republic of Benin, West Africa, from which the Africans aboard the Clotilda were taken, has visited the site, and performed a very moving remembrance ceremony.)
However, any sense of disappointment is very much mitigated by the more important facts that a) the discovery brought much-needed global attention to Africatown
, both for this unique and compelling history and for its present struggles with very serious economic and environmental injustice issues that might otherwise have continued to be largely overlooked; and b) that this discovery, and the numerous journalists, distinguished and expert scientists and researchers it brought to the site, has laid the groundwork for a diligent search to be undertaken in earnest for the actual location of the Clotilda’s
remains. The modern story is far from over, and, in many ways, has only just begun.
This resurgence of the Clotilda
story, which is inseparable from that of Africatown
itself, is made even more timely and significant as it comes just as the UNESCO Slave Route Project
prepares to hold its first-ever conference in the U.S., at the University of Virginia and Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello forced labor camp in Charlottesville, VA, on March 19-22, 2018, to explore “New Approaches to Interpreting and Representing Slavery in Museums and Sites: International Perspectives.” The emphasis on “sites” is especially significant as nations and communities increasingly recognize the importance of history being preserved and made known in the actual places where it occurred, where we may “walk in the footsteps of Ancestors.”
Although it has been relatively little known in the U.S. before now, the Slave Route Project is a global initiative launched in 1994, in Benin, as a call to all nations which were touched by the centuries of this human trafficking to identify and conserve all historic sites, artifacts, archival record, oral histories and other evidence, so that the history of the Middle Passage or so-called “slave trade, “and its Abolition will not ever be lost or forgotten by future generations.
The discovery, the investigation, the conference, and all of the discussion that has now been newly inspired by the Clotilda story are made much more timely and significant in this milestone 50th anniversary year of the assassination of Dr. M.L. King Jr. — also a keen reminder of the unfinished work of the 1968 Poor People’s Campaign for economic justice, which he did not live to see launched, and this Bicentennial year of the birth of Frederick Douglass, arguably the most effective, powerful, and influential Abolitionist, whose eloquent wisdom still resonates today, perhaps even stronger than ever, as we witness deepening divisions, widening disparities, and new, broader forms of enslavement by other names encroaching on the rights of the majority of humanity for the benefit of the few.
The significance of these latest developments is well summed up by the statement from Africatown’s own residents (which is included in the larger story at the link below:
“We would like to express our deep appreciation to the Alabama Historical Commission, the community of Africatown and the many individuals and groups who made it possible for our team to work on this important project, said David L. Conlin, Ph.D., National Park Service, Submerged Resources. “Finally, we would like to acknowledge the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture and the Slave Wrecks Project for their support of this work.”
“While the news is disappointing to the community, we are so grateful and hopeful that the process of investigating the shipwreck has brought global attention to our historic community and the compelling story of those who settled Africatown,” said ACDC President Cleon Jones. “The possibility has tremendously boosted efforts that were already underway here to beautify our community and to preserve and protect those historical assets that help tell our story. And we continue to be encouraged by the state historical commission’s statement that it is renewing efforts to find the CLOTILDA.”
See: http://www.wkrg.com/news/ mobile-county/shipwreck-found- in-mobile-delta-not-the- clotilda/1009972254
We must conclude this message with very special thanks to our brother Kamau Sadiki, current president of the National Association of Black Scuba Divers (NABS), who was also a key player in the investigation of the Sao José slave shipwreck off the coast of South Africa, which yielded artifacts on display at the National Museum of African American History & Culture (NMAAHC) in Washington D.C., for providing updates on this story. (He is pictured in this article; by oversight, his name was not listed in the earlier Press Release that went out announcing the impending investigation, but credit must be given where it is due to our outstanding achievers and contributors to knowledge.)