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.