U.S. Senate passes Alabama-led Clotilda discovery resolution

U.S. Senate passes Alabama-led Clotilda discovery resolution
This photo shows a view of the U.S. Capitol Building in Washington, Tuesday, Dec. 31, 2019. (Source: AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

WASHINGTON, D.C. (WSFA) - A resolution to memorialize the recent discovery in Alabama of the last known ship to bring enslaved Africans to the United States has won unanimous support in the U.S. Senate.

Alabama’s two senators introduced the resolution regarding Clotilda and praised the unanimous passage.

“By passing this resolution, the United States Senate has recognized the monumental significance of the Clotilda and the resilience of its descendants,” Sen. Doug Jones said. “It is my sincere hope that we can use this as an opportunity to further educate our society and to have meaningful conversations about racial injustice and how to continue moving our state forward.”

“I am pleased that we are taking the proper steps to memorialize the recent discovery of the Clotilda in the Mobile River,” Sen. Richard Shelby added. “This remarkable site – which has been preserved by local residents, historians, and scientists – represents and honors the heritage and many unique traditions of the historic Africatown community. Further, the efforts to maintain and protect the Clotilda will provide important educational value and opportunities for years to come.”

Congress banned the slavery import practice in 1807, but 53 years later in 1860 the Clotilda sailed into Mobile Bay with slaves aboard. The captain scuttled and burned the ship to its waterline in order to hide his crime.

After the Civil War, some of the freed slaves settled in what is now known as Africatown, Alabama.

The location of the ship was unknown until May 22, 2019, when the Alabama Historical Commission and a team of scientists confirmed that wreckage found in the Mobile River was indeed the slave ship Clotilda.

“How wonderful it is for the entire Africatown community that something intended for such evil, as was Clotilda’s last voyage, has blossomed into an abundance of good for so many people,” said Darron Patterson, President of the Clotilda Descendants Association. "To have a resolution passed in the United States Senate that will forever be a part of the congressional record recognizing the Africatown community is monumental.”

The full resolution reads:

Whereas, from 1525 to 1866, the transatlantic slave trade resulted in more than 12,000,000 individuals being taken from their homes in Africa and made to endure the horrors of the Middle Passage to the Americas, where those individuals were forced into enslavement;

Whereas, on March 2, 1807, Congress enacted legislation banning the importation of enslaved people, which went into effect on January 1, 1808;

Whereas, in contravention of that ban, the last enslaved Africans forced to endure the voyage to the United States came aboard the Clotilda, which—

(1) left from Whydah, modern-day Benin, in May of 1860;

(2) arrived in Port of Pines in Grand Bay, Mississippi, on July 9, 1860; and

(3) was ultimately brought to Mobile Bay, Alabama, on July 14, 1860, carrying 110 individuals, including men, women, and children;

Whereas, shortly after arrival in Mobile Bay, Alabama, the Captain of the Clotilda scuttled and burned the ship to the waterline in order to conceal the evidence of his crime;

Whereas, following the end of the Civil War and the emancipation of enslaved Africans, some of the captives brought to the United States aboard the Clotilda settled in the area now known as Africatown, Alabama;

Whereas, on May 22, 2019, the Alabama Historical Commission and a team of scientists confirmed that a wreckage found in the Twelve Mile Island section of the Mobile River was the Clotilda;

Whereas, in the 160 years since the Clotilda was brought to Mobile Bay, the residents of Africatown, Alabama, have played a critical role in preserving the unique and important heritage and traditions of their community;

Whereas the Africatown Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places on December 4, 2012, and is home to a number of important historic sites, including—

(1) the Mobile County Training School;

(2) the Old Landmark Baptist Church, now known as the Union Baptist Church; and

(3) the Africatown Cemetery, where many of the individuals who survived the forced migration to the United States in 1860 are buried: Now, therefore, be it

Resolved, That it is the sense of the Senate that—

(1) the recent confirmation of the wreckage of the Clotilda, the last slave ship to arrive in the United States, constitutes a monumental discovery of local, national, and international importance and educational value;

(2) discovery of the Clotilda may serve as an inflection point for meaningful conversation about both past and present injustices;

(3) the residents of Africatown, Alabama, embody a spirit of resilience and a determination to build a better community for their descendants; and

(4) all efforts should be made—

(A) to preserve and protect the Clotilda and associated historic sites in Africatown, Alabama; and

(B) to use the discovery of the Clotilda to provide education to local, national, and international audiences about—

(i) the violent history of the transatlantic slave trade;

(ii) the stories of the last enslaved Africans to arrive in the United States; and

(iii) the rich and unique history of the community built by the descendants of those individuals.

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