It has been almost two months since the wreckage of slave ship Clotilda was found buried in murky waters north of Mobile Bay.
And since then, the one burning question constantly posed to we descendants of those 110 Africans aboard that last – and illegal – slave vessel has been: “How do you feel?”
I’ve been asked it by journalists from The Americas, Canada, Europe, Africa, Australia and reporters from other places I don’t even remember.
But the one thing constant, no matter which descendant they ask, is their reaction to what they hear us say.
And when they hear it, their emotions range from amazement, to awe, to shock to downright disgust.
I simply don’t think many … if any … are prepared for what they’re going to get.
Just the other day, a group of us were interviewing a lawyer our Clotilda Descendants Association was seeking advice from.
At the end of the session, and in her attempt to simply know more about us, again came those words: “How do you feel?”
Now, I don’t know if it’s the detail in our answers, or the passion with which we say it, but the look on that attorney’s face was like so many others.
It screamed: Wow!
For us, the living, breathing extensions of those people thrust into slavery thousands of miles from the place they called home, emotions are raw and sincere.
In so many ways, slavery in this country still exists, even though it’s nothing like it was when our relatives were in bondage.
But just the thought of what they endured, not only for those two months on the boat, but in the next five years of slavery … toiling for wealthy white men and being treated like animals … is enough turn a simple question into a vivid 20-minute description of unthinkable atrocities committed by one human being upon another.
I KNOW there’s disgust in my voice when describing how naked men, women and children were crammed into a dank ship’s cargo hold, then for the next eight weeks forced to sleep in the same place they deficated, urinated or even threw up.
They had no choice but to also eat in those conditions … filthy surroundings that weren’t even cleaned up by the ship’s crew until our relatives were allowed out on deck for just a few minutes at a time, about one day a week … FOR EIGHT WEEKS!!
Even then, they were only allowed brief minutes of daylight and a paltry form of exercise so their bodies wouldn’t become atrophied … their muscles wasting away, rendering them useless, and dead weight cargo to be thrown overboard.
And all for what?
To settle a bet by wealthy slave owner Timothy Meaher and another man that a load of illegal slaves couldn’t be smuggled into the country, right under the government’s noses.
Still, if only somebody from their family would say the words, “We’re sorry,” it would go a long way toward healing this town and the entire country.
So, I ask YOU now … the reader … this question: If those were your relatives, how would YOU feel?