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Dreams of Africa in Alabama: The Slave Ship Clotilda and the Story of the Last Africans Brought to America Paperback – February 18, 2009

ISBN-13: 978-0195382938 ISBN-10: 0195382935 Edition: 1st
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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

*Starred Review* At a time when international slave trade had been outlawed and civil discord on the broader issue of slavery was brewing, an Alabama businessman took up a bet that he could bring slaves from Africa in open defiance of local officials. In the summer of 1860, he did just that with the slave ship Clotilda, bringing back 110 men, women, and children from Dahomey, sneaking them in among the already existing slave community. In this fascinating book, Diouf details how the last enslaved Africans to be brought to the U.S. were integrated into American slave culture and how they fared five years later, after emancipation. When their efforts to return to the west coast of Africa failed, the Africans founded their own settlement, which came to be known as Africatown. They managed to maintain their language, customs, and social structures into the twenty-first century, though the last survivor of the Clotilda died in 1935. Timed to coincide with the 200th anniversary of the abolition of the transatlantic slave trade, this book will appeal to readers interested in the retention of African culture by enslaved black Americans. Vanessa Bush
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Review


"An exceedingly well and creatively researched study that greatly contributes to the fields of slavery and African American history." --H-Net


"This important contribution provides readers with the opportunity to consider African culture, its survival even under slavery, its sense of community with roots in West Africa, and the difficulties of maintaining community in a segregated and increasingly Jim Crow South in the late 19th century. Highly recommended."--T.F. Armstrong, CHOICE


"A compelling and often tragic narrative of survival and adaptation. It makes it clear that the Atlantic slave trade was not only a part of a 'distant' history of the United States, but that it also continued to shape our country long after it was officially abolished two centuries ago."--Lisa A. Lindsay, African Studies Review


"Diouf's book makes a significant contribution to the history of race and identity in Alabama and the Atlantic world."--Timothy R. Buckner, The Journal of Southern History


"Extremely well-documented work that breathes life into the African Diaspora."--Debra Newman Ham, The Journal of African American History


"Dreams of Africa in Alabama is more than a gripping slave story. Few historians have succeeded to the extent that Diouf has in presenting a fully fleshed picture of the experience of Africans negotiating life in America.... A valuable and impressive addition to the literature of slavery and emancipation in American history."--Donna L. Cox, Southern Historian


"Diouf's masterful storytelling, thorough research, and deft handling of the body of sometimes-conflicting sources bring the story to light and effectively set the record straight."--Journal of American History


"A major contribution to pan-African and Black trans-Atlantic studies.... Dreams of Africa in Alabama reads as a novel, yet it is the product of rigorous research...."-Sylvie Kandé, QBR: The Black Book Review


"Diouf immerses the reader in the diversity and complexity of Africa.... The narrative is patient, disciplined, compelling, and brave, never shying away from the central role that Africans played in the enslavement of other Africans.... One puts down this compelling book convinced both of the significance of the Africans at the center of it, and that Diouf has given us a superb history."--Eric Love, Civil War Book Review


"This remarkable story of how a group of captured Africans were torn from their native land in the kingdom of Dahomey, transported across the Atlantic Ocean to Mobile, Alabama shortly before the Civil War, and struggled to recapture their former lives by creating an African town during the postwar era, offers a unique perspective on American history. The narrative is at once tragic, uplifting, and engrossing." --Loren Schweninger, co-author of In Search of the Promised Land: A Slave Family in the Old South


"An amazing story! Diouf shows how the African captives on the last American slave ship not only survived slavery, the civil war, and reconstruction in Alabama, but also fought to preserve African memories, culture, and community. The exhaustive research and graceful writing of Sylviane Diouf has brought this epic journey to life." --Robert Harms, author of The Diligent: A Voyage through the Worlds of the Slave Trade


"In a tale worthy of a novelist, Sylviane Diouf provides a well-researched, nicely written, and moving account of the last slave ship to America, whose 110 captives arrived in Mobile in 1860 and, after the war, created their dream of Africa in Alabama and called it Africa Town." --Howard Jones, author of Mutiny on the Amistad


"Without question, this is the richest narration of the history of the last set of African slaves who came to the United States. The book carefully illustrates how they they were able to construct a semi-independent existence, navigating the treacherous experience of bondage during the Civil War years and of the constricted freedom that followed. Not only do we gain access to precious, invaluable details about how the marginalized made their own history, we receive additional profound knowledge of the process through which African practices were retained."--Toyin Falola, University of Texas, and Fellow of the Nigerian Academy of Letters


"Dreams of Africa in Alabama is an excellent example of the new scholarship on the African diaspora that reconstructs the individual life stories of enslaved Africans--in this case the people brought from West Africa to Alabama in 1860 on the Clotilda. Diouf has sensitively revealed how these people built on their shared misfortune in being enslaved to form the vibrant community of African Town in the midst of an increasingly racist society, a testimony to unshakeable memories of their African homelands." --Paul E. Lovejoy, Harriet Tubman Research Institute, York University


"Dreams of Africa in Alabama stands as a moving memorial to the indomitable spirit of a small group of Africans who managed to maintain their dignity and their humanity on an unfamiliar and often hostile shore."--Mobile Press-Register


"Dreams of Africa in Alabama is more than a gripping slave story. Few historians have succeeded to the extent that Diouf has in presenting a fully fleshed picture of the experience of Africans negotiating life in America.... A valuable and impressive addition to the literature of slavery and emancipation in American history."--Donna L. Cox, Southern Historian


"Dreams of Africa in Alabama is an extraordinarily well-written historical account...where the reader will find horror, sorrow and courage, coupled with a sensational resilience to the harsh conditions which the African slaves endured." --The Northern Mariner


"One of the most illuminating aspects of Dioug's study is her elucidation of the Clotilda Africans' often troubled relationships with African-Americans." --Journal of Social History


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press; 1 edition (February 18, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0195382935
  • ISBN-13: 978-0195382938
  • Product Dimensions: 9.2 x 1.1 x 6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #548,733 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

I specialize in the social history of the African Diaspora, as well as contemporary African migrations.

My latest book, Slavery's Exiles: The Story of the American Maroons(New York University Press) was born when, a few years ago, I was looking for a book on North American maroons and finding none, I decided to write one.

Servants of Allah: African Muslims Enslaved in the Americas (NYU Press) was first published in 1998; its 15th anniversary edition (2013), has been updated to include new materials and analysis, a review of developments in the field, prospects for new research, and illustrations.

Dreams of Africa in Alabama: The Slave Ship Clotilda and the Story of the Last Africans Brought to America(Oxford University Press) won the 2007 Wesley-Logan Prize of the American Historical Association; the 2009 James F. Sulzby Award for best book on Alabama history from the Alabama Historical Association; and was a finalist for the 2008 Hurston/​Wright Legacy Award for non fiction.

These three latest books are a reflection of my interest in little-know stories.

www.sylvianediouf.com

Customer Reviews

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16 of 16 people found the following review helpful By T. St Clair on July 17, 2007
Format: Hardcover
Dreams of Africa in Alabama is a beautifully written and meticulous book. It's evident that Ms. Diouf spent a considerable amount of time and detail with her research. The author describes the Alabama slave trade and the events that lead to the maiden voyage of the modified schooner, Clotilda. She devotes two chapters to the lives of the "shipmates" - one prior to their capture and the other chronicling their imprisonment in the barracoons (slave pens) and their subsequent Middle Passage voyage. The remaining chapters recount the lives of the deported Africans during their enslavement and post emancipation.

In 1808 the United States abolished the international slave trade. In order to circumvent the law, many Southerners modified existing ships to camouflage their true intent and evade naval officials. The Clotilda was one such ship. Seeking to make a profit on the sale of Africans, the Meaher brothers and their associates went about the business of arranging a slaving run. Many of the captured Africans were placed into slavery as a result of lost tribal wars and/or suspect alliances between African Kings and European and American merchants.

When the humiliation and brutality of slavery was over, the shipmates endured Jim Crow, disenfranchisement and other forms of maltreatment. In spite of those obstacles, the Africans purchased land just outside of Mobile, Alabama, and became a self-sufficient community with a bank, farms, schools and churches. The shipmates limited their interaction with non-African people. Other than their contact with Americans and African Americans in the workplace, the Africans made little effort to interact anyone who wasn't from the continent in their personal lives. Intermarriages between Africans and African Americans occurred in small numbers.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Derrick Johnson on August 10, 2007
Format: Hardcover
I cannot recommend this book any more feverishly. It is incredibly well researched and written. The author lays down the historical facts in a clear manner and then leaves the characters to entice you into their lives and speak to you. The stories are never sensationalized, if anything, it is this lack of dramatization that enables the stories to unfold naturally.

The book clearly shows how within a relatively short space of time certain aspects of a culture may vanish, but other aspects which form the core of a community's make-up are improvised regardless of the circumstances and continued down the line (the communal spirit of the Africans, reverence to authority, conflict resolution etc). Cudjo's life was the one delved into in the greatest detail and it evolved to be as remarkable as it was melancholic.

After the last of the African deportees dies, I can only imagine the loneliness that would have haunted him - being alone in America, a land that he had lived in for three quarters of his life, but one that was still alien to him, one where no other local born Africans were in his immediate vicinity would surely have quelled his tenacious will and defiant spirit. For him to have lived the rest of his years, not being able to converse in his native tongue or to express his innermost feelings in a manner capable of being immediately understood by his neighbors would surely have been unbearably painful. There is an African proverb that states that "you know who a person really is by the language they cry in". When all he had ever known was gone and he lamented for them in his native tongue, I wonder, did the people around him understand the depth of his despair?
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Monica Helton on May 26, 2008
Format: Hardcover
For 300 years the Atlantic Slave Trade brought 12 million people from Africa to the New World. But in spite of the huge numbers of people who made the trip there have been only a handful of first-person accounts left by those who made that horrible trip. Most of the slaves lived and died without having a chance to tell their story. It was not until the advent of the Civil Rights Movement that much needed attention was finally given to one of the saddest chapters in American history.
That makes Dreams of Africa in Alabama, The Slave Ship Clotilda and the Story of the Last Africans Brought to America such a welcome addition to the field of African-American and Southern history. In Dreams, Dr. Sylviane Diouf, who is the curator at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in New York, tells the story of the last Africans brought to the United States on the ship Clotilda.The slave trade was outlawed in 1807, but that did not stop slave traders from bringing slaves into the United States. In 1860, the year before the outbreak of the Civil War, Timothy Meaher, a wealthy Mobile businessman from Maine, bet a group of friends that he could bring a shipful of Africans right into Mobile Bay "under the officers noses." He won the bet.
The 110 people that Meaher brought from the kingdom of Dahomey on the west coast of Africa were named Oluale, Pollee Allen, Zuma, Ossa Keeby, and Cudjo Lewis, who would be the last of the shipmates to die in 1935. Slaves for only five years before they won their freedom at the end of the war, they failed in their quest to get back home and instead carved out a life for themselves in their own town outside of Mobile, Africa Town.
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