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Descendants of the Clotilda to participate in Inclusive Excellence Conference

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As part of the upcoming Inclusive Excellence Conference, the College of Liberal Arts will host a panel discussion featuring descendants of the Clotilda, the last known slave ship to land in America. The panel includes Jeremy Ellis ‘03, president of the Clotilda Descendants Association (CDA) and a sixth-generation descendant of two Clotilda survivors, Pollee and Rose Allen; and Meg and Helen Meaher, great-great-granddaughters of Timothy Meaher, owner of the Clotilda. 

Although the U.S. had banned the importation of the enslaved from Africa in 1808, Timothy Meaher made a bet that he could bring a ship of Africans back across the ocean, and in 1860, his ship with 110 Africans sailed into Mobile Bay and up the Mobile River. The enslaved were divided between Meaher and the ship’s captain, William Foster, and others were sold. The Clotilda was then burned and sunk upstream to conceal the crime. The wreckage was discovered in 2018 and confirmed as the Clotilda in 2019.

“On July 8, 1860, a crime was committed, and the impact of that crime has affected generations of descendants,” Ellis said. “On Friday, December 9, 2022, the Clotilda Descendants Association officers met privately with Meg and Helen Meaher to initiate the process of reconciliation and healing for the descendants of the 110 survivors aboard Clotilda.”

That initial meeting led to CBS 60 Minutes airing a historic meeting held between Ellis and CDA members Patricia Frazier and Joycelyn Davis and Meg and Helen Meaher.

“I believe that true reconciliation is restoring the balance/equilibrium of everyone's needs to a place where everyone is at peace,” Ellis said. “My hope for the panel discussion is that we elevate this conversation around reconciliation and healing while outwardly displaying what it looks like.”  

The panel discussion at Auburn will be the first time the Meahers have spoken on a college campus and will focus on history, inclusive awareness, truth and reconciliation.

“I hope the students learn about the history of Africatown, as well as how the current generation of the Meaher family is working to make an impact on its future,” said Helen Meaher.

The panel discussion is one of several activities students will participate in this semester. The Auburn Journalism program's Reporting for Social Change Issues and Advance Reporting classes partnered with Sankofa Media to write feature stories and editorials and produce podcasts about the history of Africatown and the descendants of the Clotilda. The journalism students’ stories will be published on a new website in May.

"Working with these energetic journalism and communications students over these last months has been like inhaling a deep breath of fresh air. To see their genuine desire for ensuring that the institution of fair, accurate and truthful journalism still exists in America, during a time of what can only be called 'purposeful disinformation,' has been a warm reminder of when many of us began our careers so eager to become the eyes and ears of the world," said Darron Patterson, descendant of the Clotilda, journalist and editorial writer Sankofa Media. "They and their youthful colleagues across this country are the future strong-willed journalists who will not be deterred from telling the truth like so many of us have done before them."

“The discovery of the historic slave schooner Clotilda on the bottom of the Mobile River is one of the major stories of the 21st century,” said Joan Harrell, director of inclusive excellence for the College of Liberal Arts. “It has been an honor for my students and me for the past two years to be welcomed to collaborate with the descendants of the survivors of the Clotilda and now the Meaher sisters to research history, conduct interviews and share the truth about one of the most profound narratives in the history of the world.”

For more information, go to the Inclusive Excellence Conference website or contact Joan Harrell.

Tags: Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Community and Outreach

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