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The documentary 'Descendant' unearths America's sunken past

The transatlantic slave trade officially ended with a federal law in 1808. But that didn’t stop one Alabama businessman from illegally kidnapping 110 West Africans and smuggling them into the country in 1860.

To hide his crime, Timothy Meaher burned and sunk the ship they were on – a schooner called the Clotilda. That ship is now considered the last known slave ship to America.  

The wreckage of the Clotilda was finally uncovered in 2019. And many of the descendants of the enslaved people onboard eventually formed Africatown, a historic community in northern Mobile, Alabama.

The award-winning documentary “Descendant” is based on their story. It examineshow the sins of the past are irrevocably linked to the present – and how, like all wounds, they need air and attention to heal. 

“Descendant” is currently streaming on Netflix. It’s been shortlisted for an Oscar. 

We talk to its director and co-writer about their work, what’s next for the film, Africatown, and the descendants themselves.  

Copyright 2023 WAMU 88.5

Paige Osburn