tv QA Ben Raines The Last Slave Ship CSPAN January 31, 2022 6:01am-7:01am EST
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>> first on five tonight, breaking news. the clotilda has been discovered. >> the national geographic society confirming the find this afternoon. >> the ship was destroyed in the delta shortly after it arrived and hasn't been seen since. but now, crews have discovered it. the remains of the ship located near 12 mile island. the state historical commission will hold a press conference to announce all of the details of the find, and that press conference will be held in africa town. the mobile community founded by the slaves brought here on the clotilda. susan: ben raines, you tell the story of clotilda. you were instrumental in the ships discovery. tell me about the project and how you got involved. ben: it all started with a phone call from a friend. i had been an investigative reporter and mobile for almost 20 years. it was just something you heard about as part of local legends and it was talked about in the community. a friend of mine heard a historian on the radio saying if you ever found the clotilda, it would solve one of america's greatest maritime mysteries.
they told me i should look for it. i told him it sounded like looking for pirate treasure and it was ridiculous. mysteries. they told me i should look for it. i told him it sounded like looking for pirate treasure and it was ridiculous. he started telling me on the phone, i typed clotilda into google and i was immediately hooked. i ordered all the books and started digging into the historical documents, the primary stuff almost immediately. that was in august of 2017. i actually held up the first piece of the ship to see the light of day in april of 2018. susan: why were you successful? people have been searching for the clotilda for a long time. why were you successful? ben: the big thing was everybody was looking to the man who perpetrated their crime, who was alabama steamboat captain in one of the wealthiest people in alabama in the 1800s.
he made a bet on the deck of the steamboat when a bunch of wealthy passengers were out drinking whiskey and smoking cigars one night and he bet these yankees that he could go to africa and bring back some enslaved people. so, he did and was successful, but he had been bragging about the trip, the whole time the ship was sailing to africa. this was illegal in 1860 and illegal to import people from other countries to enslave them in 1808, so this was a capital crime, he could have been hung for it. he bragged about it so much that federal agents were watching him at his house by the time the ship came back three months later. so, they had to go out and hide the ship when it came back, and they decided to burn it. so he spent the next 30 years of his life, after having guarding -- gotten away with burning the ship and hiding the crime, so he
lied about where the ship was. he did a series of interviews over and over, and every time he set a different location. by you corn, all these different by use in the strike cannick swamp that sits above mobile. it's about 600 50,000 acres. imagine a swamp 15 miles wide and 60 miles long. so he was lying about where the ship was in all these places and everyone who search for it to send to him and dashed him and his interviews and gone to the places he suggested. all of which were to throw you off the trail. so i looked at the historical documents and found other references were people who were there that night gave a different location and they all gave the same location, 12 mile island. that's ultimately where i found the ship. susan: what is the significance in finding the clotilda and understanding her place in history? ben: the clotilda is incredibly
unique. it's unlike any other. this is a look into the past that we have never had before. it was illegal since 1808 to bring people into the country. so all the enslaved people that were here by the time of the civil war, almost all of them had been born here. so we didn't have people who had been through the middle passage anymore. we had scattered recollections, but with the clotilda story -- story, and because it happened so late and was exceptionally documented, we know everything about the voyage and the people that came on the ship. people were captured between 15 and 30. many lived into the 1910s, 19 20's. the most famous of the passengers lived until 1935. these people were interviewed dozens of times. so starting with the voyage itself, we have the captain's journal, when he sailed from mobile, alabama in the kingdom
in modern-day benin, we know all the provisions he took that he thought he would need to carry home more than 100 people in terms of water, meet, rice, food, rum, all those things, we know happen when he got there. he met with the palace and bartered for these people. we know he paid 27,000 pounds of gold for them. we also have the perspective of the africans, they were interviewed first in 1909 by and dashed by a mobile woman who they were keeping the passengers alive. so then they invited him to come back and interview him in 1928, when he was the last still alive of the original settlers of africa. so those two interviews, we have the horrors of an african slave as experienced by victims. we have what life was like in a safe prison. we know when these people were
captured, we know where they were captured, we know who sold them, we know how much, we know the ship they came back to america on. and because they were interviewed, we know at happened to them while they were enslaved and we know happened while they were free. they settled on this town at the edge of mobile called africa town. it was based on the african villages they grown up in. that village is still there with the descendants of the people brought over on the clotilda. so with the clotilda we have the whole story and it's a proxy for everyone in the united states, and in the world who sailed and arrived in whatever country they are in and the whole of the ship. most of these people, millions, it's what was recorded. so it is the proxy of the lost history of these millions of people who were stolen from africa and spread all over the world. that is what's so unique about it.
it is the whole story of slavery all encapsulated in one piece, and we know everything about these people and what happened to them in their lives. susan: let's go back to the mayor, who was the instigator, this was a federal crime. why was he willing to take this kind of risk? ben: timothy was trying to thumb his nose at the federal government. so he was from maine, grew up in a state where there were fewer than 1000 african-americans, and came to alabama were more than half the population was african -- african-american and enslaved. but he had a fully vested southern plantation older i the time of the clotilda story. he started as a deckhand and ended up with nine steamboats. cotton, he was moving down the river. he is heavily invested in the
civil war, which was about to start. so there was a case going on in court regarding a ship called the wanderer. it came in and georgia with 378 people on it were stolen from africa, they were being illegally imported. the guy who brought them, a playboy, he shot his own uncles eye out in a duel, really crazy guy. there was a court case going on and it was covered all over the country. the new york times, new york tribune, and this was discussed on the steamboat the night the mayor made the bet. there were talking about the case and there were yankee passengers, one from new york, one from virginia and they were talking to him about it. one of the group of men said, i think they should hang the lot of them, talking about the people in georgia who were caught. he said, hang them all and it will scare the rest off.
and he said, nonsense, they won't hang anybody, i will do it myself. within two years i can bring in a load of slaves from africa. they bet a thousand dollars, which was equivalent to 30,000 today, and then set about doing it. within six or eight months he had succeeded and brought in a load of enslaved people. so he was doing it specifically to thumb his nose at the government, and it worked, it was written about all over the country. after clotilda left mobile, it was written about it all over the country that it had gone to africa to get slaves. that's why he was looking for him because he bragged so much. susan: you also describe the economics of cotton and the prices that enslaved people commanded in the late 1850's. could you explain how cotton had expanded so much that free labor was really in demand in ways that there weren't even enough to fulfill it? ben: if you step back a little
bit to 1813 or so, that's when andrew jackson made his name running native americans, the trail of tears, that open alabama up for settlement. as alabama opened up, cotton is what they started growing. production and alabama grew exponentially year over year, which meant they needed more and more labor. because you are no longer allowed to bring new slaves and after 1808, you could only use people who were already in the country, and they were running out. they just didn't have enough in the south. the crop became bigger and bigger, more and more square miles. so they are buying people from the northern slave states, maryland and virginia, which didn't have the same kind of farming going on, and didn't need as much human power. so in enslaved person in maryland -- in this timeframe we
are talking about late 1850's, 1860's, was about five other daughters. in mobile it was close to 2000 dollars. southerners looked at this as almost a tariff because they wouldn't let them bring enslaved people and in the north. this is what set up the south. one of the goals of the civil war was to reopen the international slave trade. that's the reason for the alamo in texas. they try to turn texas into a slave state so there were more places you could bring slaves in. it was all about the economy of the south collapsing. in mayor knew better than most, in addition to being a plantation owner, he and his three brothers owned more than 50 people who worked there three plantations. so he was firmly invested. he saw the prophets were disappearing and demand power. if in enslaved person and mobile at that time was the equivalent of $55,000 in today's money.
this was a lot of money and the price was a quarter of that in the northern slave states. so that's where the south's economy was falling apart. the free labor was no longer free and it was variant -- very expensive. susan: how much capital did he invest finding the clotilda and its crew and setting off? ben: quite a while. it was built by a man named william foster here he lived in a house near his plantation. he and his brothers had a song mill where they cut word -- cut wood and a shipyard or they built ships. but it was only cargo ships. the first five years it's traveling around the south and the gulf coast all the way to mexico and the caribbean, moving things like wood from alabama, pine lumber to cuba and coming back with loads of rum and thth so it was going to be one of the
fastest ships around because william foster was an excellent shipbuilder and designed the ship for speed. which is what he wanted to do a discrete and quick mission to africa. he said he would buy the clotilda for 35,000 dollars of foster would captain it to africa to make the run for slaves. $35,000 back then is more than $1 million. he also told foster he would pay him with 10 of the captains. we are looking at more than a half million dollars. so right then he has spent over a half-million dollars in today's currency. and they gave foster 27 pounds of gold to buy it, which back then was worth several hundred thousand dollars more. right here you have tim bit -- timothy spending close to $2 million to win a thousand dollar bet. it's pretty extraordinary. susan: if there was a risk of prison or the death sentence,
how was he able to find a crew? ben: he didn't tell them what he was doing. he found men of mast, who were itinerant sailors. mobile was the second biggest port on the gulf coast and the third-biggest port in the country. port rankings were new york, new orleans and mobile. so this is a cosmopolitan port with centers all over the world. you would walk through downtown mobile and people would come at you from all over direct -- all over directions. he specifically found ragtag drunks who didn't had -- have family and had no local connections. he brought them on the boat and didn't tell them what they were doing. they actually set sail, and after they passed cuba they hit a hurricane and suffered terrible damage to the ship. a rudder was almost torn off so the ship was badly crippled. crippled like it was, one of the anti-slaving squadron ships came
up behind it and gave chase, so foster ran rather than surrenders -- surrendered. that was the cruise first tipoff that they were not hauling a load of lumber. the reason thought they were hauling lender -- lumber is because foster head hidden all the supplies he would need to bring 110 people back. all the extra water and food under stacks of lumber aching it seem like the whole of the ship was full of lumber. so when they had a shop -- stop for repairs, crews figured out we are slaving ships. so foster offered to double their wages. this was the first of mutinies the crew through because they were not excited to put up the capital crime. was punishable by death at the time. so basically he tricked these guys. susan: it was a modern-day state of the need, your readers will
get a really distressing look at its role in the international slave trade. tell me a little bit more about it. ben: it was the slave port and was responsible for recording a third of the people ever recorded into slavery. a third of the people, not all of the people ended up in america, but the people certainly did. so starting in the late 1500s, early 1600s, the kingdom emerged in the slave place where you could go, the slave trade in the 1600s, you could go to these other ports and get three or four people a week and have several thousand people in a matter of hours. because it was turned into an industrial place. the entire economy of the kingdom was built around hunting people. so they would go out -- you have to imagine modern-day benin is
about the size of pennsylvania and the kingdom was about the size of, philadelphia. so imagine philadelphia going out and stealing millions of people over the course of 300 years from the rest of pennsylvania. that's what happened in africa. and they killed everybody in the village who wasn't of the age to become a slave. if you were young, a child, they killed you, if you were an older person they killed you because they didn't want to leave anybody behind who might seek revenge against him for killing everyone. so as they expanded around their original kingdom, they had a ghost town of abandoned villages. we will never know what cultures were lost because they were wiped off the map, everyone was dead after a raid. so, basically what they did was turn slavery into a massive
economy, they capture tens of thousands of people a year, the english, the french, dutch, spanish, they all built them themselves to house slaves destined for their colonies. so it was really a fully industrialized business. in it was considered the greatest military power in west africa. so much money to buy guns and other weapons thanks to selling some of these people. susan: one of your statistics is that they have a 50,000 person army supplied by western guns and lots of gold. with the payments always in gold? ben: everyone i encountered, but there were sweeteners in the deal. rome was particularly prominent in those days. other alcohol. i think a lot of times they were pain -- paid in fine fabrics. if you look at the lithographs
of english naval officers who visited in the 1850's, they were wearing beautiful silk robes and things that look like they came out of paris. he's wearing a huge hat with tassels all the way around, really elaborate clothing. and that was the story for the whole country. was a very prosperous level. it's still the main dominant tribe there today. so they were paid and mostly go, but there were other luxury items. you couldn't get them any other way except having them arrive on the ship. susan: how long was it important and how many people did they sell to them? ben: it was anchored off or about eight days in foster, correctly thought that they were trying to engineer a doublecross, or they would sell him people, take his money, and then call the british anti-slaving squadron and say
there's a guy with a bunch of illegal slaves, you should come get it. so that actually happened and foster wrote in his journal that he was worried there were going to do this because it had been so long. he wanted to show up, give them the money and leave in the same day. instead, they brought him ashore, put him up in nice accommodations and he was left to wonder around for a full week. when they got a captain, he bought 100 25 people for the 27,000 -- 27 pounds of gold, but they had 110 onboard and there came the british slaving squadron over the horizon. they sought the steamer exhaust stacks on two warships headed for them, steam powered ships. so they cut the anchor and left without their last load of people headed towards the ship in a giant boat. and they were able to outrun
them and it was monotonous especially fast ship. and they put extensions on the mass so they could fly bigger sales and go even faster. susan: one of those passengers captains was a person who is captured by a writer. i have a clip because the book was published for the first time just recently, in the editor of that book reads a passage talking about the capture. let's listen. [video clip] >> when i think about those times, i try not to cry. my eyes, they don't stop crying, but tears run down the side. i call my mama's name. i don't know where she is, i don't see none of my family, i don't know where they is.
but these days we have no end for crying. so they tie me in the line with the rest. [end of video clip] susan: that was the description of what it was like to be captured and sold into slavery. the title of the book was -- what does that word mean? ben: that's a word for prison, a slave prison. she's writing about what happened. later, deeper in the story, the grandfather had africans enslaved for his personal use. he had slaves. he grew up knowing his grandfather was slaves and knowing they were sold. so when he was captured he knew what was in store for him. >> what do we learn about the time on the ship for the middle
passage? what was life like on the ship for the clotilda? ben: for some it might've been a slightly more comfortable trip across. some of the slave ships were carrying more than 1000 people at a time, and it was an attrition sort of thing. they kept them chained lying down, and many people would die on the crossing, but it was just the cost of doing business. with the clotilda, because foster was invested in getting 10 of these people, but also because they plan to get as many as 175 people, so they had a lot of food. they had extra food and more room. these people were chained around the neck. the neck chains were run through to the floor and they were chained to the floor in groups of eight. it was 13 days before they were allowed to walk around on the
deck. they weren't able to walk when they first got up there. in the hold they just had a go to the bathroom wherever their peg was. so when a group got brought up on deck, they would have to scrub it during the crossing, and then another group would be brought up, so this went on for the whole trip. at one point he talks about something very chilling, but i have only seen one theme in literature associated with everything aboard the clotilda. he said they were all brought up on deck, all the groups, and they were all chained to the anchor chain and their neck chains were hooked to the anchor chains because the ship was being chased by another nt slaving squadron ship. it was very -- very notorious that in the historical record -- in fact in the movie almost got it begins with a scene like
this. they would have the slaves chained to the anchor chains, so if they got caught they could cut it and it would drag all the people, evidence, overboard. so at one point in this journey, they describe the chain to the anchor chain with everyone else. i'm sure they didn't know that they were about to be cast overboard, that's the kind of conditions they were in. just horrific, at the edge of death every minute, hard to imagine. and by the time they were on the ship, it had been a month since they were captured. when you read the book you read these incredible, brutal descriptions of what happened. at one point he described that they took the heads of everyone they killed as trophies and he described seeing people he knew being smoked over a fire. that's what's in his mind during the time he's chained to the deck of the ship.
it's almost unbearable to think about the life of horrors that would leave you with. susan: from a legal standpoint, the now -- the most perilous part was when they arrived on the southern shores of the united states. how did they evade detection? ben: when you are on the water, you can only see about 15 miles across open water because of the curvature of the earth. so foster knew this. they knew that if they kept 20, 25 miles off the coast of alabama, the two ports at the mouth of mobile bay, they would never see the ship. so they stayed well off shore instead of coming up to the shore. they sailed to mississippi. there are islands in front of alabama and mississippi and they sailed all the way to mississippi and hooked around one of the barrier islands and headed back into alabama and hid in a secret location along the coast, well away from civilization that foster had selected before the journey.
so, they get there and and up waiting there a couple of days because it looked that -- it took that long for him to get organized to bring a steamboat down. the original plan was they were going to unload the clotilda passengers there and take them back to the plantations of the steamboats. because he had done so much bragging in the heat was on in town, he said, we have to destroy the clotilda. so they brought the steamboat down from mobile to wear this ship was hit. they took the mast off the ship to make it look more like a barge. at night, they towed the ship up the bay hoping it would look like a steamboat towing a cargo barge. when they got up to the top of the bay, on the west side of the bay is support a mobile, but there's a big island across from the port of mobile. they went around the island and into the giant swamp i mentioned and sailed up the river there and escaped in from the port.
and so, that was the big trip. they made it into this giant swamp and went eight or nine miles inland into the swamp before they burned the ship and hit it. what better place to hide it than a giant, desolate alligator infested swamp? susan: did they ever face any consequences? ben: they were all arrested within one week of the voyage. he was arrested and accused of this crime. he was able to evade justice entirely. a lot of the history tells you that he was clever and had his alibi of being on the deck and its regular steamboat on the run. and he had met up with a steamboat and ate dinner with the passengers, so that was his alibi. that's part of it.
the real story with why he got away with it is the federal judge and mobile was one of his best friends. it was the first steamboat he built after. so 10 to 15 years later, this judge who has a steamboat named after him is the one in charge of the case and threw it out and let him off immediately as soon as the ship happened. foster was the only one who faced legal jeopardy because he brought it back and have not checked in at the port. the reason why you check in at the port is that's how they would charge taxes and anything you would have to pay. so he was facing a thousand dollar fine. the judge kept delaying foster's trial for more than a year until the civil war started, and then judge johnson became one of the first district court judges for the confederacy.
he abandoned the court system and switched over to the confederate side. so that was anyone being prosecuted for the crime. no one was hung for it. the only person ever hung in the u.s. for slaving was captured within a week or two of when the clotilda returned to america. he was captured with his ship around the keys. every president from thomas jefferson forward, many of our founding fodder -- fathers, adams, had slavers. abraham lincoln became the first president to refuse to pardon a convicted slaver. he left a man that was cap -- he let a man who was captured be hung. that was the only person who was ever hung for illegal slaving. susan: so the clotilda arrived in 1860 and they have five years of enslavement before, is there
anything that marked their experience enslaved in alabama that's different from the majority of enslaved people who had been born in the united states? ben: absolutely. it's really critical. the first thing was that many of the people on board the clotilda all came from the same village. in so they already had lifelong bonds. he talks about one of his close friends being among the captured people. so they were already bonded like that, then they spent the time with other people and got to know them for a month, then they spent the month that i have on the ship. so by the time they all got to america, these 110 people were very close, they knew each other well, they suffered through this horrible hardship, and that alone was a powerful thing. then, they didn't get split up. they were not sold, for the most part. 30 were sold to a slave dealer and ended up somewhere else.
the other 80 were split amongst three brothers and one or two neighbors. there were all on plantations that were close together, but also connected by steamboats. so timothy's brother had steamboats. to joe and some of the others worked as deckhands on the steamboats. every week they would run up the river and stop at the other plantations where their friends were. so they all kept in touch throughout the civil war and they all knew where they were. when the war ended they banded together back into this group and that was a critical thing. but because they were from the same village -- she was trained at a warrior by the time he was captured at 19 years old, so they get captured and they fight back during enslavement. one of the first and most powerful stories, and overseer started whipping a woman, all
the africans. all the africans took the whip and whipped him until other employees could come get them. and as he said, nobody whipped an african anymore after that. the men got whipped a lot more after that, it's clear from the story. there's another story where one of the women who was quite young -- they were quite young as young as 12. they were pretty, his wife took a shine to her and wanted her to be a house server. so she had her hired to cook in her house and she told aunt polly to train this girl how to clean house and do things like that. at poly was having a hard time teaching her how to sweep and hit her in the head, yelled at her, whatever, and the story we have, the girl screams this bloodcurdling scream in the africans come from the field and they were carrying every instruments they had and they
had knives and shovels, it was 30 africans who charged into the house and get the girl and they chased timothy's wife upstairs where they locked themselves in the bedroom. right there you see the mental of the africans, they fought back. they banded together and stayed together and that's how they were able to survive enslavement and then afterwards build the town because their community -- their togetherness had not been destroyed the way it had for most enslaved people. this group managed to stay together and that proved to be the difference in the world. susan: but the irony is that they were discriminated against not just by africans, but other black people, even those who were enslaved, why was that? ben: absolutely. first, they couldn't speak english, and as they learned at their pronunciation was never good. when you read the book, you see the dialect she describes.
you could tell he had a heavy accent, even after he had been in the country for 80 years. so they were mocked by the africans, they had tattoos, most all of them had facial scars, which is very common today, it identifies your tribe. the chief -- his cheeks were chiseled in his dimples where he smiled so you could see holes through. other africans had similar things. when they got here, they acted very african. on sundays they didn't have to work, so they would dance all day, seeing, doing african dances. when one of their members died they would hold an african funeral where they would bury the person standing up and they would all join hands and sway and sing these songs in their native languages, so they were very outside the black born american slaves world. and perhaps those people felt
--, but they ostracized the africans, and this continued with the next generations when the africans were free to have children, the american born mocked the african children for having these savage african parents. and he talks about american-born blacks calling him and his children savages. all the same insults that we've heard applied to african-americans still to this day. black americans were saying that to the african born clotilda captives. which is sad, but not all of them were. he talks about this incredibly important influence on them, a man named george who is a slave, but his girlfriend who was a cook for a wealthy family who is free, bought his freedom. so he went to see africans all the time and would encourage them to vote, introduced them to christianity. he talked about them being the
best friend the africans ever had. susan: the africa town community they created, you talk about its trajectory from a bustling community from the 1990's when it was a site of neglect in disrepair, what was the cause of its downside? >> they were forced on the community by this state government in alabama. the africa town prospered from the 1900s forward early because it was a place apart from white mobile, so all these businesses were built up and there were big factories that came to town and those provided jobs. so that town grew and grew, by 1912 it was the fourth biggest community in america governed by african-americans. by the 1950's and 1960's, more than 10,000 people were working
the jobs, driving nice brick homes, everybody's driving new cars. two things happened in the 1990's that destroyed africa town completely. the first one was they built a bridge. there was a drawbridge and a two lane road. in the road, when they built that road, they took land from the settlers and ran the road right through the properties, so the districts spring up around that road over the next 80 years, there were barbershops, grocery stores, movie theaters and restaurants, a thriving district. this state of alabama announced they would expand the road. instead of a two lane drawbridge they would have a six lane interstate and interstate right through that same corridor in the heart of africa town. they destroyed all the rest of the buildings at the original founders built. and africans were free they
bought lands. and then they pulled together and build houses, a church, schools, all these things. the department decided to run this to interstate through the heart of where the settlers lived. they destroyed his house in 1992, along with every other structure the africans had built. so that was a major blow, so when they did that they built the road that destroyed the entire commercial business. instead of the community where you can walk from one to another, the neighborhoods were cut off from the other two by this giant highway. kids could no longer get to school, families cannot walk across the street to see their grandmother, when they had a funeral at the church they could no longer get to the cemetery. they did not even put a light in on the highway. in 2000, the paper mills closed in the international paper mill on the edge of africa town was the largest paper mill in the world.
in a heartbeat, thousands of jobs were taken from the community. couple that with the crack epidemic in africa town was left in shambles by the end of the 1990's. in fewer than 2000 people there today and no business. the entire business district is gone. susan: let's go to the third part of the story you tell. there is an extraordinary reckoning. and what the finding of the clotilda might mean for the several groups involved in the story. you traveled to benin in your pursuit of understanding the story. what did you find about the modern-day governments understanding of its role in how it has come to terms with it? ben: benin, as i mentioned, is about the size of pennsylvania. the dominant tribe back in the soviet era was the bomb tribe. they are still the dominant
tribe. all the other tribes were tribes at the farmer captured. so within benin today you have the tribes that captured everybody on board the clotilda, and the handful of tribes that were represented. everyone in benin today is a descendant of people who are capturing people or the people who were captured. by the edge of this simmering tension between these tribes where tribes that were captured -- they would say don't speak to them, don't go to the stores, we won't send our kids to school with them. so the government is concerned about a rwandan style genocide. the rwandan genocide was a tribal disagreement that got out of control. here you have a bunch of tribes angry, and they carried that forward. ancestor worship was a big deal.
that's how voodoo got to south america, howard got to the caribbean and how it got to america, louisiana. all of that came out of benin. so please tribes are still bubbling under the surface. so benin is taking an amazing an active role in trying to come to terms with its past. they are trying to have a national reconciliation. when you ride around benin, there are monuments of people lost to slavery all over, and they are brutal. a life-size person on a pedestal as you are driving on the road and that person is gagged, handcuffed and chained on their knees. it's a lifelike statue in the heart of town. you will see walls where there are severed limbs representing people lost to slavery. we will walk around and see statues with heads down and no face and that's meant to shape the living for their role in slavery. so i was stunned to find -- here
in america we are talking about reparations these days and whether people who are descendants of enslaved people should get something for the live stolen from their ancestors. they have that conversation in benin as well. it's the exact week -- it's exactly the same issue of slavery. the president of benin was attacked in the last election because he has slave dealers and his family tree. you could see that wound is still there. i have never understood or anticipated when i got there, it was quite remarkable. susan: we have about 10, 12 minutes left, let me turn to the descendants of the clotilda, the foster family. you contacted both families, what did you find about their reactions to the discovery of the clotilda? ben: their family has refused to ever speak about their role in
this saga. they claimed that they got death threat -- death threats after the movie almost got came out in 2005. which was a group of enslaved people taking over a ship. they have yet to ever speak publicly at all and say they won't. i have spoken to some of them and they will say, no, i'm not doing it. where as the descendant of captain foster, when i wrote my first story about having found the ship, he reached out to me and said, i had no idea i was related to the spare, i had no idea my family was involved in something like this, i'm so sorry, i wish i could apologize. it so happens that the descendants of the clotilda's captains had been dying to have that kind of reconciliation with someone who participated in the clotilda in capturing and selling their relatives. so i asked him if he would come and meet with the descendants
and he was terrified, but he did come. he got here and told me he took his wedding ring off and didn't want to mention his family in case somebody wanted to punish him for what his ancestors had done. and we walked in the room with a handful of descendants. the first one said to me, i mike foster and i'm here because of the terrible thing done to your ancestors and it was my ancestor that did it, and i just want to apologize. he was enveloped and hugs, everybody was crying and laughing and joking. and then mike went to a big community celebration the next day and walked around meeting everybody. everybody was hugging him and crying, it was a powerful moment and it was the first chance that the community -- africa town, the descendants head for that kind of reconciliation. someone said to me in the book, reparations or nothing, reconciliation is the only thing that matters. we need to forgive and move on.
and it was really powerful seeing that take place, the family still refusing, this is an incredibly wealthy family and it seems they are somewhat cursed. three great grandsons, two of them had died. at the time of their deaths, the other brother was suing them for having stolen a million dollars of their inheritance. in they do have a number of artifacts apparently, they have had the steering will out of the ship, so it's time for them to turn all those things over so they can be on display in a museum, things like that. the worst part about what's happened with the family is africa town was purchased by the africans from pieces of their plantations. so they still owned all the land around africa town, and they are
rezoning it from residential to industrial to add more. africa town is trying to fight off all of this industry. what's really bad about that is up until the 1960's, who are one of the largest landlords in africa town, they built 500 houses in africa town. in 1968, in protest of the city of mobile finally bringing water and sewer to africa town, the mayor announced they are tearing down all the houses. they kicked all the families out, 500 families and bulldozed the houses. at the time, the patriarch was quoted saying about his african-american tenants, he don't need water, they have been living perfectly fine without it for years. he doesn't need a bathtub, he wouldn't know how to use it. he probably store food in it. that was quoted in the local newspaper. he felt brave enough in 1968 to say that out loud.
so that's the mayor's legacy and mobile in africa town. susan: now that the clotilda has been found, what you think africa town's fate ben: will be? ben:i hope this fate is back to its original trajectory. the ship is in very good shape, i have touched it and held the wood in my hands. it can be done. the state of alabama keeps talking about not digging the ship up. keep talking about leaving it in place in the mud and building a concrete period over it like pearl harbor. so people to get near it would have to take a boat through the alligator infested swamp and stand on the concrete. instead, that ship should be dug up and put on display in a world-class museum in africa. 20,000 ships in the slave trade, less than 13 have been found, counting clotilda. most were ships that sank in
ports. none were involved in the american slave trade. in the african-american history museum in washington, they have a piece of a slave ship on display, but it's a south african ship that sank in port in brazil never involved in the american trade. here we have and entire ship, the contents are still in it. everything that was on it, we need to dig the ship up and put it on display in a museum in africa town, a world-class museum. the new lynching museum in the legacy museum has generated a billion-dollar impact on the local economy. imagine having the last slave ship on display when we have everything i spoke about with the legacy of the people. we know everything about all the families that came from it, the people on the ship, so imagine that museum. meanwhile, as we were able to get the ship -- the state of alabama to commit to building
it, the government is building two new ships in benin, $25 billion apiece, to talk about that country slavery era history. how can one of the poorest countries in the world have $225 million museums in africa town, home to the people stolen from benin in the last slave ship, how can we not have it there? so in five years time i hope we talk about the museum opening and people walking in for the first time ever into this huge hall with this last slave ship sitting there. susan: has maritime archaeologists estimated how much it would cost to dig it up? ben: i keep hearing 10 million to 20 million. it's not that old. it's from 1960. we've dug up several ironclad. we've dug up the civil war era submarine on display. in stockholm, the ship is over 1000 years old and is dug up and on display. anybody who says we can't do
that is just lying. it's just a matter of money and it's not that much money. the state of alabama is too broke to do it, which, they are, then let's have an act of congress. this is a mobile, international historic artifact and it should see the light of day. susan: we have about five minutes, but i want to spend them talking a little bit about you. you tell leaders in your book that you got so involved in this project that you lost your job of two decades at the mobile newspaper. newspaper is in your family. we have a clip of your father, former new york times editor talking about you and your brother and him, this is from 1994, very brief. [video clip] >> that's my sons on the left and jeffrey on the right. just to the left of that it was
in that picture and we were back from a nine-day trip in the louisiana bayou. on going down in a few weeks to spend a week with them. we will fly fishing saltwater. [end of video clip] susan: what's next for you? ben: i want to do everything i can to help africa town right now. i covered that community for many years and know that there are all sorts of things that need fixing. so anyway i could let my voice to help, i'm eager to, i have two documentaries in the works that will come out. these are my secret love, these are carnivorous plants, and the other is an aquatic documentary, another underwater film ike the
underwater film -- force, another one i made. and i will write some more books. as a journalist, i no longer have my daily newspaper job. as a journalist, what i want more than anything is to write something that changes people's lives that helps, and i don't think i could ever come up with anything i could ever do again that would have the power and potential that this story has had. so i just want to get back out there and see what else we can find and what else we could do and i guess the answer is, who knows. susan: on that note, you described this, one of the most profound experiences of your life. he took that phone call from your friend jeff and all of this in suit. i'm wondering what it is about this particular thing, all these years of investigative journalism that sat with you and
why you got so involved in the story? ben: originally, i jumped into it because people here in the local area were starting to say, the clotilda didn't really happen, they just say that in africa town. so i got into it as solving the mystery. something we haven't discussed is before i found the clotilda, i first found another ship and i thought it was the clotilda, i wrote an article and it went viral international saying it might've been the clotilda. it wasn't, i was humiliated on the international journalism stage. i really blew it in front of the whole world. so, that experience, when there was a meeting in the community where the archaeologist came to town and said it couldn't be the clotilda, there were about 200 people and people started crying, some people started accusing the state of lying and
that it was the clotilda and they were trying to hide it. i felt the power of the story and what it meant to africa town and by association of the african-american diaspora, that the ship was proof of everything that had happened. so when i went back to look for it after this first failure, i went with a renewed sense of purpose and i understood that i was a part of something really powerful that i just -- it had to happen, i had to do it. i had to figure it out. i will say i almost gave up after that big disappointment. it was a humiliation, the biggest of my life. i was at the meeting in africa town right after they announced it in one of the descendants came up to me, wrapped me in a hug and she sang a gospel song in my ear. there's a bright side somewhere, don't stop until you find it. she let go of me and held me by the shoulders and said, keep
looking until you find it. and it just felt like a mission from god. susan: ben raines, thank you for spending an hour with c-span. your new book is called the last slave ship, the true story of how the clotilda was found, her descendants and an extorting reckoning. ben: thank you so much for having me. i enjoyed it. that was great. ♪ >> all q&a programs are available on our website or as a podcast on our c-span now at. [captions copyright national cable satellite corp. 2022] [captioning performe >> c-span is your unfiltered view of government. funded by these television companies and more, including cox. cox is committed to providing eligible families access to
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cop. also, james bovard discusses covid-19 testing. washington journal is next. ♪ host: it's "washington journal," for the last day of january. the united states is a vector to square off against russia later today at united nation security council over ukraine. you can see that at 8:00 on c-span two, c-span.org, and the c-span now app. to start off this morning we want to hear from current and former members of the military about the potential conflict and ukraine, what it could mean for u.s. troops. if you are an active member of the military and want to give us your perspective, (202) 748-8000 is