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“A discussion of slavery in Alabama,” An APR news special for Black History Month-- Part one

Clarence Wall

The Alabama Public Radio news team was recently invited to take part in a public discussion on slavery in the state. I was joined on stage by William Green. He’s a member of the Clotilda Descendants Association. Green’s ancestor was one of the Africans kidnapped and transported to the Mobile area aboard the slave ship Clotilda. The event took place at the GulfQuest Maritime Museum, which is hosting an exhibition on slave ships. I began the discussion by asking Green about an incident that happened when he was a college student...

MaryElizabeth Harper

“Bill, when you were at Lincoln University, I understand that you were in a class and all of a sudden the subject of the Clotilda had come up,” I asked “And I was wondering could you, talk about that, please.”

“So I was taking a class in African and African American history, bringing it from African all the way to Africans being brought to this country, and eventually into the, uh, 20th century. And the professor, who happened to be white, as a matter of fact, which kind of disturbed me, how can a white professor teach me about my history? But anyway, but he was, he was a renowned archeologist, and his name escapes me, but the book he was using had mentioned the Clotilda. And now my classmates, I'm coming from mobile, I'm a native of mobile, uh, some thousands of miles away at Lincoln University. And, of course the, my classmates being as creative and innovative as they were, we all had yard names and my yard name was “Mo-bile.”

Alabama Archives
Pat Duggins
Alabama Archives

“So, so when the mention of the Clotilda came up and that it was, uh, landed in mobile in 1960, of course all the classmates said, ‘whoa, mobile, your folks was on that?’ And I said, yes. They were, ‘oh, you're lying, you're lying.’ (the class responded) No, they actually were. And from that was the seed of classmates knowing about the Clotilda. And it was a unique situation that you travel thousands of miles away from home and find that out your lineage in a history. It was a little bit unnerving, but a source a pride.

“So, I mean, for the one person in a thousand who doesn't know about the Clotilda,” I added, “it was the very final slave ship that, uh, that that brought kidnapped Africans to the United States. And the vessel was scuttled, uh, near, you know, the Mobile River in 1860, that sort of thing. But I was, I was, I was kinda curious, uh, how, how did this inform your relationship to your classmates because you had this rich history and then I'm assuming that they shared theirs or, or how did that go?”

“Well, the unique thing about being a descendant from the Clotilda is that it was so recent being the last ship to bring Africans to these shores for the sole purpose of enslavement,” said Green. “That it was so recent that they knew of their history, they knew of growing up in Africa. And I hence knew my lineage to the ship that brought them over here and their growing up in the area of Africa, west Africa, that they did. Surprisingly, a number of, most African-Americans have no knowledge of their ancestral lineage because of the, uh, years and centuries of them being brought over and being, um, in, um, in enslaved and what have you. So, it was surprising to find out the uniqueness of knowing which ship brought your ancestors over, and what a privilege to know that about your family, because many people did not.”

National Archives

“So did that draw them, your classmates closer to you or was it kind of like, well, you're different therefore, you know, kids being kids, they're not gonna spend a lot of time talking to you?” I inquired.

“Well, I was ‘Mobile,’ so they was drawn to me anyway,” Green said. “I was being, being an abnormally coming from the south so far in the south up in Philly, uh, uh, up in Pennsylvania. Uh, I was unique anyway, so everybody knew Mobile, Mobile, Mobile. But, uh, but it, um, it, not that that endeared them to me, but, uh, they call me city country because I had, they call from the country, but it had city airs about him too. So it was city country. But so, uh, so it, it was an endearment not marked by that, but more marked by the uniqueness of how far I come or the region I come from in the, in the country.”

“So growing up in Africatown or Mobile, uh, and you were, you were aware of your heritage from the Clotilda?” I asked. “So growing up, was it a, was it a big deal or it's like, yeah, you know, Clotilda… how did you, how did you handle that?”

“Well, well now if, if some of you have seen the film “Descendant” and, and other, um, documentaries about Africatown and, and those Africans, uh, who are descendants there. They tell different stories,” said Green. ‘Some of 'em said, Hey, we were never supposed to talk about the Clotilda.’ We, uh, that was never my situation growing up in my family. Uh, it, it was something that was innate that I knew, but we never sat around the dinner table or the fireplace talking about, oh, what was me? We came, it was just something innately that I knew and in my family. And I'm one of nine kids, so my, my father was more concerned about not the past, but more of the future, ‘how I'm gonna feed these kids and educate these nine kids?’ So it, uh, uniqueness unique in our family, let's say. And, and I won't put this on all of the other families, but unique in our family. It was just something that we knew, but we never harbored on.”

“So what, what do you know about your ancestor, Osia Keeby?” I asked.

“Well, and, and it's pronounced “O-C” uh, spelled or spelled O-S-I K-E-E-B-Y and Ina Keeby. And I, and I stress that because, um, Osia was long, uh, reported to be, uh, an ancestor from told, but it just in recent years that Ina Keeby was known to be also a shipmate that he married that also came over on that ship. So, in 2011 or 12, I kept writing to Dr. Louis Gates, saying, ‘hey, it'll be a great project for you to, to trace the history in the, uh, lineage of the 110 that came over on it."

Pat Duggins

"And I would get an auto reply from him, email reply, ‘go to my such and such website, website.’ So I kept doing it. And then after about the third or fourth time, I actually got an, uh, personal reply from him saying, ‘please contact my editor of the, um, website route.’ And I contacted her and discussed the situation that I'm being a, um, a descendant of the last Africans that come to, uh, the shores for the purpose of enslavement. And she said, that's too broad. Can we narrow it down a bit? Why don’t we do it on your family? If you, uh, kind of Google the route, uh, where my ancestors on, on the Clotilda is still up there somewhere. So, but anyway, I, uh, in his reporting and in his response to me on the route, they had hot links within that thing. And one of the hot links was to the headstone of Ina Keeby Linage that she was the first wife of Osia Keeby, So it was finally finding the correct spelling of her name and also the lineage that she was married. First wife of Osia Keeby, my beloved. Uh, she died before he did, uh, wife of Osia Keeby. So it had his name there, the correct spelling of his name, cause that had been. I don't, I won't say bastardized, but spelled in so many different ways. But that's, that's how I knew and made the connection and looking up her that she was born in Africa. So I said, born in Africa? She came on at the same time. So that's why I started making the connection that she came on the ship as well.

Editor's note— GulfQuest is an underwriter of Alabama Public Radio

Pat Duggins is news director for Alabama Public Radio.
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