Saga of last US slave ship finds life in ‘Descendant’ doc

Oct 21, 2022, 3:07 PM | Updated: 3:26 pm
This image released by Netflix shows Emmett Lewis in a scene from the documentary "Descendant." (Ne...

This image released by Netflix shows Emmett Lewis in a scene from the documentary "Descendant." (Netflix via AP)

(Netflix via AP)

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — In the murky waters of an Alabama river, diver Kamau Sadiki said he had to pause before entering the last known slave ship to the United States, where 110 people were confined in hellish conditions.

“You feel the reverberation, the pain and suffering, and the screams and the hollering,” said Sadiki, a diver who works with the Smithsonian Slave Wrecks Project. “We do this work to understand the science and archeology and collect all the data we can to help tell the story. But there’s another whole dimension here that we need to connect with.”

The documentary “Descendant” retells this once-submerged history, intertwining the 2019 discovery of the ship Clotilda with the stories of the descendants of the 110 people aboard. Along the way, it raises questions about the legacy of slavery and what justice would look like 162 years after the ship’s voyage.

In 1860 — decades after the United States had banned the importation of slaves — the Clotilda illegally transported 110 people from what is now the west African nation of Benin to Mobile, Alabama. With Southern plantation owners demanding slaves for their cotton fields, Alabama plantation owner Timothy Meaher made a bet that he could bring a shipload of Africans across the Atlantic. The ship was later scuttled to conceal evidence of the the crime.

Slavery ended five years after the arrival of the Clotilda captives. They saved money to start an community that came to be called Africatown. Some of their descendants continue to live there in the historical hamlet deeply tied to its heritage but now surrounded by heavy industry in south Alabama.

Director Margaret Brown said she hopes viewers walk away with “a little bit of history rewritten for them, and they’re emotionally moved by the resilience of this community.”

“This is a community that has been telling the story, to mostly pass down through generations, for 160 years to keep this history alive.”

In the film, descendants discuss their family’s effort to not let the Clotilda fade into history, showing home videos of relatives recounting the story to younger generations. Some read from “Barracoon,” the posthumously published 1931 manuscript in which former Clotilda captive Cudjo Lewis recounted his story in an interview with author Zora Neale Hurston.

The documentary also puts a focus on environmental challenges surrounding Africatown, with subjects discussing pollution and cancer rates. In wrestling with the economic legacy of slavery, one scene shows a descendant reading Lewis’ words while sitting in an antebellum mansion. While the Meaher family did not participate in the film, their name is shown dotting local landmarks. Another scene focuses on the buzz created by the discovery of the ship, raising questions about who will benefit from the discovery.

“I don’t want the momentum of the story to just be focused on the ship. It’s not all about that ship,” descendant Joycelyn Davis says in one scene.

Brown, who is white, was born and raised in Mobile. The story of the Clotilda was kept alive by descendants, but was not taught in any history books when she was a child.

Sadiki said he hopes the story, “becomes part of every history book in this country” despite the “efforts being made to remove these these sorts of stories from our consciousness.”

“We really have to get past that shame and silence. What I hope the movie does is insert, not only back in our memory, but back into the curriculum of this nation, the story of the Clotilda,” he said.

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


FILE - Mega Millions lottery tickets and a wager slip are displayed, Friday, Jan. 6, 2023, in Derry...
Arizona Sports

Drawing nears for $700M Powerball prize, 10th biggest in US

Another huge lottery jackpot will be on the line Saturday for players willing to put up $2 vs. daunting odds of actually winning the prize.
20 hours ago
Chinese spy balloon flies above in Charlotte NC, United States on February 04, 2023. The Pentagon a...
Associated Press

US downs suspected Chinese spy balloon off the Carolina coast

The United States on Saturday downed a suspected Chinese spy balloon off the Carolina coast after it traversed sensitive military sites.
20 hours ago
A man works at an avocado orchard in Santa Ana Zirosto, Michoacan state, Mexico, Thursday, Jan. 26,...
Associated Press

Route to Super Bowl dangerous for Mexico’s avocado haulers

SANTA ANA ZIROSTO, Mexico (AP) — It is a long and sometimes dangerous journey for truckers transporting the avocados destined for guacamole on tables and tailgates in the United States during the Super Bowl. It starts in villages like Santa Ana Zirosto, high in the misty, pine-clad mountains of the western Mexico state of Michoacan. […]
20 hours ago
Associated Press

Iraqi currency crash halts after meeting with U.S. official

BAGHDAD (AP) — Iraq’s currency ended its nosedive after a meeting between the Iraqi Central Bank head and a top U.S. Treasury official. Under Secretary of the Treasury for terrorism and financial intelligence Brian E. Nelson said in a statement Saturday that he had met with Central Bank of Iraq Governor Ali al-Allaq in Istanbul […]
20 hours ago
Associated Press

Gas prices dip in NJ, around nation as cold weather returns

TRENTON, N.J. (AP) — Gas prices dipped in New Jersey and around the country at large as cold weather descended on parts of the nation following an unusually warm January. AAA Mid-Atlantic says the average price of a gallon of regular gas in New Jersey on Friday was $3.42, down three cents from last week. […]
20 hours ago
Associated Press

Kansas police responding to overdose call shoot, kill man

KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) — Police in Kansas say an officer shot and killed an armed man after he fled from the scene of an opioid overdose on a bicycle. The Kansas City, Kansas Police Department said in a news release that officers spotted the man pedaling away Friday night from a home where they […]
20 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

Day & Night Air Conditioning, Heating and Plumbing

Prep the plumbing in your home just in time for the holidays

With the holidays approaching, it's important to know when your home is in need of heating and plumbing updates before more guests start to come around.
Quantum Fiber

How high-speed fiber internet can improve everyday life

Quantum Fiber supplies unlimited data with speeds up to 940 mbps, enough to share 4K videos with coworkers 20 times faster than a cable.
Children’s Cancer Network

Children’s Cancer Network celebrates cancer-fighting superheroes, raises funds during September’s Childhood Cancer Awareness Month

Jace Hyduchak was like most other kids in his kindergarten class: He loved to play basketball, dress up like his favorite superheroes and jump as high as his pint-sized body would take him on his backyard trampoline.
Saga of last US slave ship finds life in ‘Descendant’ doc