On July 8, 149 years ago, 110 young people disembarked from the slave ship Clotilda. It may appear paradoxical, but at a time when there seems to be too few around, I truly believe that they and other victims of the slave trade and slavery are role models for all ages. Our pain and revolt at the sheer horror of what they endured, and at the poisonous legacy of the slave trade and slavery that need to be addressed and redressed, should not overshadow their accomplishments.
As I discover thousands of their stories while doing research, I know that their victimization is not the only aspect of their lives they would have wanted us to remember. William Prescott had seen it coming when he said in 1937, “They will remember that we were sold but they won’t remember that we were strong. They will remember that we were bought, but not that we were brave.”
Let us also remember that theirs is not ancient history. Cudjo, the last survivor of the last slave ship died in 1935 and the last African Americans born in slavery passed away in the 1950s.
Each time we recall their immense suffering and exploitation, we should also celebrate their resilience and bravery and measure the progress that theirs and their descendants’ fighting spirit made possible. Three days after Cudjo Lewis’ s funeral, Fraser Robinson III was born in Chicago. His daughter Michelle is the First Lady of the United States.