Without a doubt, slavery is one of the darkest times in American history. While many see it as something in the distant past, a recent discovery shows just how close it is to our time. The discovery? The identity of the the last-known survivor of the transatlantic slave ships.
Using unpublished writings from Zora Neale Hurston and other historical texts, Dr. Hannah Durkin from New Castle University tracked the story of Redoshi, a child taken from her home in West Africa. Redoshi was just 12 years-old when members of another tribe murdered her father and handed her over to slave traders. Despite being a child, she was forced to marry a stranger and they were sold together in Alabama. There, she was given the same “Sally,” and worked in the fields and the plantation house for five years, until emancipation went into effect. However, she remained at the plantation. From the historical sources, she had a daughter, and according to Dr. Durkin, eventually even owned her own land. Despite being dehumanization and oppressed, Redoshi held to her tribe’s traditions, and taught her daughter some of her language.
Redoshi’s stories joins a handful of first-hand accounts of the last slaves in America. Last year, Oluale Kossala’s story was told in “Barracoon,” a book written by Zora Neale Hurston 80 years ago, but unpublished until 2018. He recounts coming to America by ship (despite the slave trade being outlawed at the time), and living in a barracoon, or barracks, for slaves. When he was interviewed in 1928 at 90-years old, he was believed be the last survivor of the last slave ship, but with the discovery of Redoshi’s story, there was at least one more. She died in 1937.
One of the most significant parts of Redoshi’s story for Dr. Durkin was finding film footage of her. When we imagine slavery, we often think of a time far away in the distant past, but she lived through the creation of television. The reality of slavery and its effects are still fresh.