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.

History: The Art of Complicating a Conversation Using the Internet

This has probably happened to you: you are trying to look up the date or location of some famous-but-ordinary event, only to find yourself still online, many hours later, learning about the knot-based recording system of ancient people of the Andes. The links of the Internet are catnip for the curious, and this can lead not only to unintended hours of indirect research online, but also some conversational derailments.

Curiosity can cause social problems, trust me on this. My Cousin forgave me immediately, however.

I will now briefly map how a conversation with my Cousin went from (a) focusing on the charm of some family photos relating to an ancestry research project to (b) the Japanese internment in the USA in just five topical steps due to interconnected links in the wonderful site known as Wikipedia.

MAP: My grandfather’s appearance as a light-skinned black man > his nickname Red > other Black people with the nickname Red, such as Malcom X ,who was a dishwasher with shared nickname holder Redd Foxx > Redd Foxx > Red Foxx’s friend (Noriyuki) Pat Morita (yes, Mr. Miyagi in Karate Kid), who appeared on Redd’s popular show Sanford and Son with a TERRIBLE joke name > Pat Morita’s internment with his family at Gila River Internment Camp after his release from the hospital where he was recovering from surgeries for spinal TB.

(Yes, I would have continued if I hadn’t then realized I’d sucked all the charm out of the topic of my grandfather’s photo. OOOPS.)

Seriously, though, Pat Morita had a rough childhood. Imagine being paralyzed most of your youth, and when you finally get out of the hospital after years of painful surgeries and recovery, you are sent to join your family… in an internment camp.

Aside: Wikipedia is a great project, and you should consider sending some money to the Wikimedia Foundation (donate.wikimedia.org).