Dreams of Africa in Alabama: The Slave Ship Clotilda and the Story of the Last Africans Brought to America by Sylviane A. Diouf

Dreams of Africa in Alabama: The Slave Ship Clotilda and the Story of the Last Africans Brought to America by Sylviane A. Diouf

                It wasn’t until a few months ago that I had ever heard the name Clotilda. I had no idea that in 1860, the Clotilda sailed to the west coast of Africa and brought back with it to the United States over one hundred Africans, that were then enslaved in Alabama. I only learned about this because of the soon to be released Barracoon: The Story of the Last "Black Cargo" by the late Zora Neale Hurston, that highlights the life of Cudjo Lewis, who in the 1930s was the last living survivor of the Clotilda. It’s also around the time the east coast got quite a bit of rough weather and someone thought they had located the Clotilda. They hadn’t but I took that as a sign, that this was a history I needed to learn more about. Not only to satisfy my own curiosity but because this was a significant piece of African, African-American and American history.
                I started reading this book, immediately after finishing Hurston’s Barracoon. While that story was enjoyable it focused solely on the story of Cudjo Lewis. Barracoon adequately lit a spark and I wanted to know more. More than just the names of the other survivors but their stories. Where were their homes? Where did they go? What were their stories? 
               Dreams of Africa in Alabama is an incredibly well researched book that details the history of the passengers of the Clotilda, the people who enslaved them and what life was like while living in Africa, while being enslaved and the reality of freedom after the Civil War set them free. It’s a unique history because the Trans-Atlantic Slave trade was closed decades before their arrival, making their passage to the United States illegal. This also meant that the majority of the people enslaved at the time, were born and raised in slavery. They had no memories of their homeland or of ever being free. That’s not true for any of the passengers of the Clotilda who had to adjust to the concept of no longer being free and had to try to preserve their culture while enslaved.
            I would definitely recommend this book. Diouf did an incredible job compiling all of this information and keeping it uncomplicated. This is a dense book because as much as it highlighted the story of the Africans, it also detailed what life was like in the U.S. before their arrival during their enslavement, after the Civil War. It’s a layered and complicated story. One that still isn’t finished yet, as the families still in Africatown or still fighting to have their history recognized. I give this book 5 out of 5 stars. 


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