Historian tells of last slaves to come to Alabama

Published 3:00 am Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Dr. Sylviane Diouf’s lecture titled, “The Clotilda, African Town and Beyond,” was an event of the Mitchell-McPherson Lecture at Troy University Monday.

Diouf, scholar of the African Diaspora and author of “Dreams of Africa in Alabama: The Slave Ship Clotilda and the Story of the Last Africans Brought to America,” spoke of names and places probably unfamiliar, even to most Alabamians.

She shared the story of West Africans who were purchased at Dahomey and illegally transported by ship to Alabama more than 50 years after the Constitution prohibited American involvement in the transatlantic slave trade.

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Although 12 million Africans were forced to make the Middle Passage, little is known about the enslaved Africans.

Diouf’s mission was to tell the story of those who endured such “unthinkable experiences.”

Recently arrived Africans who made the passage were introduced to slavery and set apart from American born-slaves, who viewed them as “African savages.”

Before enslavement, the Clotilda men were farmers, traders and fishermen. The women sold agricultural products at the market.

Diouf said her belief is that it was the Clotilda Africans’ cultures and memories of being free people in Africa that shaped their responses to living in the South as slaves.

Enterprising people engaged in the illegal slave trade and Mobile was a prime location for those who wanted to engage in the illegal trade.

Mobil was financially dependent on cotton and, therefore, slavery. Mobile was known as the “slave emporium” and Alabama’s most beneficial business was domestic slave trade.

At the end of the War Between the States, upon freedom, the Africans wanted to return to their homelands. But with no financial means to do so, Diouf said they realized their best hope was to recreate their lives as free African people in Alabama. The men worked manual labor in railroad yards and lumber mills. The women did work they knew —growing and selling produce.”

In 1870, the African people in Alabama pooled their money and purchased land outside Mobile that became African Town.

“The African tradition of collectivism was a major part of the reason why shipmates were able to acquire land and housing,” Diouf said.

African Town was the longest lasting black community in America and retained its ethnic identity longer than any other black community.

Jordan Grice, freshman at Troy University, was among the university students who attended Diouf’s lecture. Grice attended the lecture for her U.S. History class.

“I found it interesting to see Dr. Sylviane Diouf’s inspiration behind the book that she wrote,” Grice said. “I also appreciated the insight into the lives of specific Africans and Americas and the traditions that they have preserved.”