"A discussion of slavery in Alabama." An APR news special for Black History Month. Part 3
The Alabama Public Radio news team was recently invited to take part in a public discussion on slavery in the state. The event took place at the GulfQuest Maritime Museum in Mobile, which is hosting an exhibition on slave ships. 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 before the Civil War aboard the slave ship Clotilda. In part three of this discussion, he and I talked about the 2019 discovery of the wreckage of the Clotilda…
“So the discovery of the Clotilda made a big stir in the press,” I asked. “I mean, we'd know Guy Busby's here in our, in our, in our audience today he covered for Alabama public radio. Ben Raines really was the driving force behind the discovery for you and for residence of Africans and wasn't a wasn't a big deal or a ‘so what’ or what?”
“Well, from a historical standpoint, of course, it was monumental,” responded Green. “But as, as a number of you will find us descendants. It was more about the people that were brought over those were our ancestors. The Clotilda was just a vehicle that they that brought them here. But our emphasis, and our concern is more with the occupants, the African occupants of the Clotilda. Sure, there's that historical significance that can't be understated, of the finding of it, because the historical significance of it being one of the last ships to bring Africans to these shores. So we understand the historical significance. But our emphasis is more on the people that were brought over who our ancestors and the great things that they accomplished, even coming over under those circumstances, and I'm not sure if you're a fan of you know, or know the history of the Clotilda and how they were stripped naked, and made to lie on the ship, and I'm finding out lately that they weren't lying flat, they were lying on their sides.
“So then it's safe to say that, you know, all of the press coverage of this sort of thing sort of sort of misses the boat,” I inquired.
“It depends on your perspective. For those historians, for sure. It is significant. But for those Africans who are descendants from that, yes, I recognize the historical significance,” said Green. “But I'm more concerned about my people that were brought over under these inhumane circumstances, as opposed to the book the ship has, of course, their they'll make they will be forever linked, the Africans and the ship, because that's the name of our organization is Clotilda Descendants Association, so that there is inextricably linkage between the people and that vessel that brought them here.”
“During an earlier discussion you had mentioned that that growing up in Africa town the one thing that was very prominent was the frankly the decided lack of white people there and I was wondering you know, what was that like growing up and then you know, for example, when you when you started going to college and what was it like you know, encountering frankly, more people like me?’ I asked.
“Well, you know, if you, if you think about it, it's an opportunity to be a person, not a black person, not a white person, you a person, you're playing with friends that look like you. You run around in the streets in the in the summertime barefoot, and you're hunting, going through the woods…exploring thing. And the people you see look just like you. So you don't have a sense of that you're a minority. You're just a person. And oh, by the way, when I shared this with a number of my classmates, Lincoln, they said, mobile, you know, the Think of it. That was the same situation in New York, and Bed Stuy (Bedford Stuyvesant) in Harlem, in Baltimore, and D.C and Anacostia. A number of cities are like that. Think of you Pat when it was first time to get a car and encountered a black person in your community?
“Believe it or not the second grade, but then I was a military kid. So you know, fair is fair,” I said.
“Yeah, that's not fair question for you. But, but most of you, if you realize you even though this is one of the most diverse nations in the world, we still grew up in our enclaves, and very little interactions with other cultures, other people, other races until school integration,” said Green.
“The name Timothy Meaher came up earlier as the gentleman who bankrolled the flotilla expedition, and without betraying any competence, as I understand that there was a recent meeting between the descendants of Timothy Meaher, and a number of members of the association, including yourself, delicately put, how did that go?” I asked.
“It was it was a first meeting of our officers, the new elected officers of the Clotilda Descedants Association reaching out to them, and the door was opened when I'm not sure if some of you remember on the ‘Today Show,’ when they showed people going out to the Clotilda when the Clotilda had been found,” said Green. “And so it had this exposition of people going out to the Clotilda. And as a part of that. They issued a press statement first time ever, that they had any acknowledgement, any commentary whatsoever. So our president Jeremy Ellis seized on that opportunity to say, to reach out to them, in response to their press release, issued a press release, offering up the possibility of a face to face meeting. And it was it was cordial. It was it was monumental.
“I've heard getting back to Olley Ballard (from Part 3 of APR’s series ‘No Stone Unturned’,) she you know, one of the one of the strategies she tries to use and trying to find the burial site of her great great grandfather is to talk to the descendants of the enslavers and she being a descendent of the enslaved. So that she says a lot of the times the response that she gets from modern day people is like, ‘that happened so long ago? I didn't have anything to do with that’… that sort of thing. Did you get that vibe from the Meahers’ or was it more magnanimous or what?
“The ones we met with…There's this revelation, realization that things They are changing. They are a new generation. And that's, that's I guess the best I can framework I can put it in… they realize that this is a new generation.”
Editor's Note— GulfQuest is an underwriter of Alabama Public Radio