Internet Rabbit Hole: the Recent Life of the Last U.S. Slave

I was reading my very strange Twitter feed (it’s so geeky – lawyers, writers, activists, marine biologists, comedians), when I fell into a Michael Harriot thread about Bruce Boynton, who died on November 23, 2020. His thread would up telling multiple stories: of slaves making off with a ship, fighting in the Civil War, and all the cool things their descendants did.

As he unwinds these stories (which you should read in his thread), the story includes having one of Boynton’s relatives discussing the last surviving U.S. slaves – not the one that was famous at the time, but another. A woman named Redoshi, who was on that last, highly illegal final ship called Clothilde, the wreckage of which was recently found.

You can read more about her specifically in this video, from an Alabama news station:

I thought Mr. Harriot had linked to the wrong video in his thread, since it is a USDA film about how the 1930s USDA had dedicated trainers and agents to train and advise southern Blacks in successful farming techniques, but Redoshi does appear briefly and early on in this video from the USDA under the name Sally Smith:

(This video really inspires me to think of 4H and other agricultural programs differently: they played a role in supporting those freed from slavery and their descendants in a way I hadn’t been aware of. It’s not JUST white farm kids having animal breeding competitions (which is how the 4H kids I knew described it to me) – there was a real public good element to it!!!)

According to Wikipedia (and the video from AL.com, above), Redoshi died in 1937.

She was alive during my grandparents lifetimes.

SLAVERY WAS VERY VERY RECENT. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

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