The Survivors of the Clotilda: The Lost Stories of the Last Captives of the American Slave Trade

Amistad: HarperCollins. Jan. 2024. 432p. ISBN 9780063072992. $29.99. HIST
The Clotilda was the last ship of enslaved people to travel between Africa and the United States. It carried 110 people from Ouidah, Benin, to Mobile, AL, in the summer of 1860. History Museum of Mobile advisor Durkin (Josephine Baker and Katherine Dunham) records the ship’s history and the personal accounts of enslaved people to portray the postbellum United States. She begins with vivid details on the kidnapping of the last enslaved Africans sent to the U.S. Their docking in Mobile Bay, AL, becomes the dominant focus of the book. Durkin documents the stories of 103 survivors, from their enslavement on plantations up through the creation of a self-sufficient community called Africa Town. She uses individual biographies to frame what life was like for Black Americans in Alabama after their liberation, and she connects those profiles to the larger shifts in the South, including a link to the 1955–56 Montgomery bus boycott.
VERDICT A highly recommended sweeping saga. Based on a rich archive that includes the survivors’ own stories, one of which became the basis for Zora Neale Hurston’s Barracoon, this title provides a human history of enslaved people and a portrait of the postbellum South.
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