Redoshi- An African-American Woman Kidnapped from Her Homeland and Forced into Marriage

Redoshi is an African woman who was brought to America against her will and forced into slavery. Researchers believe Redoshi was likely born in the 1840s in modern day Benin. At about 12 years of age, her father was killed. Redoshi was taken from her homeland and sailed across the Atlantic Ocean on the Clotilda. The middle passage was a difficult, dangerous and traumatizing experience for the men, women and children aboard. It was typical for African men to be shackled below deck with shackles so painful that they often left welts and weighed the wearer down. Women were sometimes shackled or roped together above or below deck. Sometimes they weren’t roped. Sometimes they were raped by the crew members aboard the ship. Children were also often abused aboard ship.

After enduring the Middle Passage, Redoshi was bought by a man in Alabama where she was forced to work. Redoshi was forced into marriage as a child with an enslaved man. After emancipation, she lived with her daughter into the 1930s.

What makes Redoshi’s story unique is that she was on the last slave ship to come into the United States, she was a woman and she lived so late into the 1930s that video of her exists.

Civil rights activist, Amelia Boynton Robinson wrote a memoire about Redoshi in the 1930s. Zora Neale Hurston also researched Redoshi.

My grandmother was born in the 1920s. My grandmother would have been a teenager while Redoshi was still living. Redoshi’s life overlapped with my grandmother’s life and my grandmother’s life overlapped with mine and my mother’s. Often when people reference antebellum slavery in the United States, it’s spoken of as if it’s ancient history. Truth be told, my generation (millennials) are only a few generations removed from being legal property. In fact, my Great Aunt (who lived to be 101) remembers seeing the relatives of the family that enslaved our family in South Carolina. As a child, she didn’t understand what the connection with this white family was. It wasn’t until she was older that she understood that they were the relatives and descendants of the family that had enslaved her own. That same white family were also her cousins and Great Uncles.

Many African women who were forced to endure the Middle Passage were made voiceless, but research has revealed some of what Redoshi went through.

Many of the racial stereotypes that are pervasive today have their roots in slavery, such as the Jezebel and Mammy.

Slavery doesn’t seem so distant in this context.

 

This story came into the news recently after Dr. Durkin, a researcher, published a paper about Redoshi.

 

 

 

Elizabeth Johnson Harris: Who Was She?

Her name is Elizabeth Johnson Harris. * She wasn’t a well-known woman, like Ida Wells Barnett or Rosa Parks. She was just an average woman, who kept a record of her life, as an African-American in the 19th century. She was a poet, journalist and a mother. She came into the world in 1867,  in Augusta, Georgia. She was the daughter of formerly enslaved people and for a time, she lived with her Grandparents, who had also been enslaved. In many ways, she was an average African-American woman of the 19th century.

What I find fascinating about Harris is that she kept a memoir, 85 pages of memories and perspectives about her life. She wrote about seemingly normal things, like going to school, caring for her family, and she also recorded her perspective on race in her time.

An excerpt:

Mamma and Papa would often come to see me and bring me nice little things of various sorts. They would often ask if I wanted to go to their home and live with them where I would see more pretty and lovelier things in the city. But no, I was always proud to see them come and hated to see them go. But I had grown so attached and devoted to the older folks that there was nothing to attract my attention from them.

When I was six years old, they started me out to school and although my Grandfather had been a slave, yet he managed to learn to spell and read and from this he taught me of the little that he knew, which gave me a precious start

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This entry about learning to read from her grandfather dispels the myth that African-American culture does not value education or learning. What does it say when one of the first things a formerly enslaved person does is learn to read and write, then pass that lesson onto their grandchild? Despite all the brokenness, despite the terror that her grandfather would have endured during slavery, he still desired to learn. He understood the value of education and in teaching his granddaughter, gave her an invaluable and healing gift. When you’re educated, you can tell your own stories and narratives and you can free your mind and spirit.

Harris lived during a time when history was often told from a white male perspective. Yet, Harris’ memoir speaks of history from the perspective of an average, African-American woman. In this respect, her memoir is a form of resistance to an oppressive time period. Harris writes of some of the most normal aspects of 19th-century life and transforms what might be taken for granted or regarded as mundane today into elaborate and significant facets of life. In telling her story, she resisted the common notion that Black people have no history, no collective story or connection to the past, no reverence for our ancestors or where we come from. So many of us have had our history re-written or ripped away, but when we tell our own story, we’re countering the historical re-write narrative that says we have no history.

It’s important to understand that every woman has a story and so many Black women, especially in the 19th century haven’t had their stories told.

Think about the women and people in your lives, are they famous? Some of the most interesting people aren’t famous, but they still have stories worthy of being shared. Think about your own story. Who will tell the story of African-Americans in the 21st century? What’s different and what’s the same for African-Americans 150 years later?

Source:

Elizabeth Johnson Harris Memoir, David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Duke University.

Related:

Sarah Rector, an African-American girl, who came from an enslaved family background, but became the richest little Black girl in the United States. 

 

*I have read excerpts from her memoir and this is my impression based off of those excerpts. I aspire to read the memoir in entirety.