MOBILE, Ala. (AP) — Descendants of the last African people abducted into slavery and brought to America’s shores gathered over the weekend on the banks of an Alabama river to pay tribute to their ancestors.
The descendants of the 110 people aboard the Clotilda, the last known slave ship to bring enslaved African people to the United States, held a ceremony to mark the anniversary of the vessel’s arrival.
Dressed in white and walking slowly to the beat of an African drum, the descendants made their way to the banks of the Mobile River near Alabama’s coast. A wreath of white, yellow and red flowers was carried into the river by a kayaker and released into the waters.
The event marked the anniversary of the ship arriving 162 years ago with 110 enslaved people brought to the country against their will, Darron Patterson, president of the Clotilda Descendants Association, said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press.
In 1860, the Clotilda illegally transported 110 people from what is now the west African nation of Benin to Mobile, Alabama. The voyage, which happened decades after the law banning the importation of slaves had taken effect, began as a bet when a wealthy plantation owner wagered he could import a shipload of slaves without being caught.
The 2019 discovery of the remnants of the Clotilda sparked renewed interest in its saga. But Patterson said the focus should be on the people it carried.
“It’s not about the ship. It’s not about sails or nails or wood. It’s about the people who were in the cargo hold. And their stories were amazing stories,” he said. Patterson’s great-great-grandfather, Kupollee — a beekeeper, farmer and woodworker — was one of the 110 on the ship.
The captives of the Clotilda endured a cruel ocean voyage packed into a cargo hold and five years of slavery but were able to maintain their African customs, Patterson said.
“The biggest thing for us is to make sure that no one ever forgets this story… America has a long way to go in learning how to embrace its history, including its dark slave history,” Patterson said.
The “landing” ceremony was held near the bridge to the Africatown community founded by Clotilda survivors after the Civil War.
“Proud of my heritage. I’d like to say even more so proud of the resilience and the legacy that they left behind,” descendant Ronald Ellis Jr told FOX10.