Dreams of Africa in Alabama: The Slave Ship Clotilda and the Story of the Last Africans Brought to America

Dreams of Africa in Alabama: The Slave Ship Clotilda and the Story of the Last Africans Brought to America

Dreams of Africa in Alabama: The Slave Ship Clotilda and the Story of the Last Africans Brought to America

Dreams of Africa in Alabama: The Slave Ship Clotilda and the Story of the Last Africans Brought to America

Synopsis

In the summer of 1860, more than fifty years after the United States legally abolished the international slave trade, 110 men, women, and children from Benin and Nigeria were brought ashore in Alabama under cover of night. They were the last recorded group of Africans deported to the United States as slaves. Timothy Meaher, an established Mobile businessman, sent the slave ship, theClotilda, to Africa, on a bet that he could "bring a shipful of niggers right into Mobile Bay under the officers' noses." He won the bet.

This book reconstructs the lives of the people in West Africa, recounts their capture and passage in the slave pen in Ouidah, and describes their experience of slavery alongside American-born enslaved men and women. After emancipation, the group reunited from various plantations, bought land, and founded their own settlement, known as African Town. They ruled it according to customary African laws, spoke their own regional language and, when giving interviews, insisted that writers use their African names so that their families would know that they were still alive.

The last survivor of theClotildadied in 1935, but African Town is still home to a community ofClotildadescendants. The publication ofDreams of Africa in Alabamamarks the 200th anniversary of the abolition of the transatlantic slave trade.

Winner of the Wesley-Logan Prize of the American Historical Association (2007)

Excerpt

On a January night in 2002, a truck backed up to a statue in front of Union Missionary Baptist Church, north of Mobile, Alabama. One or two people got out, cut through parts of the heavy bronze bust, ripped it from its brick base, and disappeared with their loot. the theft shocked and angered the congregation of pastor A. J. Crawford, Sr. They had just celebrated the New Year and were preparing to commemorate, the following month, the 130th anniversary of the church. Unlike those of the Virgin Mary or George Washington, this statue was the only one of its kind in the country. the theft struck at the very core of a community that will never have any equivalent in North America. Determined to bring the statue back home, the congregation established a reward fund. in case the bust was not found, the money would be used to cast a new one. the wooden model, carved fifty years earlier, was still in town.

The statue dated back to 1959, when a steel shaft was sunk 100 feet into the earth in front of the church, to commemorate the one hundred years that had passed since the honored man and his companions had set foot on Alabama soil. the bust and the shaft were the symbols of an exceptional tale.

In the summer of 1860, less than a year before the outbreak of the Civil War, one hundred and ten young men, women, and children were brought to the Alabama River, north of Mobile. They had just spent six weeks onboard the Clotilda, a fast schooner that had brought them from a world away. They were the last recorded group of captive Africans brought to the United States. Acting for Timothy Meaher, one of the most prominent businessmen in Mobile, Captain William Foster had smuggled them in under cover of night. He had to be careful because decades earlier, on January 1, 1808, the country had abolished the international slave trade. Although tens of thousands of Africans had since landed, the slavers could, in theory, be hanged.

After emancipation, the young people tried to get back home but, unable to do so, they eventually bought land and founded their own town. One of their first major enterprises was the construction of a church. Cudjo Lewis . . .

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