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History

A Recovered 1930s Interview Tells The Story Of The Surviving Slavery

Brooke Hurbert

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Many avid readers enjoy a good book by Zora Neale Hurston. What they may not know about her is that her talents ran much deeper than writing. Unbeknownst to many, she tracked down a man with an extraordinary story to tell. She found not just any man, but the last one that survived being held captive on a ship filled with slaves being transported from Africa to the U.S. 

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Not only did Hurston find this man, she thoroughly interviewed him as well. Unfortunately, she was not able to put the interview into book form, despite her best efforts. It wasn’t until 2018 that the interview was finally published in the form of a book titled Barracoon: The Story of The Last “Black Cargo.” With the release of Hurston’s book many longtime unanswered questions were suddenly answered. 

Barracoon tells the story of a man born with the name Kossula, which later became Cudjo Lewis.  When he was born he lived in Benin, a country in West Africa. At the age of 19 he was kidnapped by the Dahomian tribe. Against his will he was moved to the coast and sold as a slave, along with approximately another 120 men. He and the other slaves were forced to reside on the Clotilda, a slave ship which would take them from their home country to America.

In 1860 the ship arrived in Alabama with all captured slaves on board.  Despite the declaration in the U.S. that slavery was legal, bringing slaves in from other countries was illegal. The ship arrived in Alabama during overnight hours. They were then confined to an area swamp for a matter of days. For fear of being caught, the kidnappers set the ship on fire. There is a distinct possibility that the remains of the ship were found in early 2018. 

Those that read the book will get a firsthand view of the ordeal through Lewis’s eyes. Throughout the book, Lewis expresses how it felt to be sold into slavery against his will. He talks about how even though his fellow slaves lived together on the ship, they were separated once they reached Alabama. Readers experience the pain of the ordeal right along with him. 

Lewis talks about how he struggled with being placed on a plantation he felt out of place in. Due to language barriers, he and the plantation workers could not effectively communicate. The frustration Lewis experienced during that time is evident throughout the story. He also shares with Hurston that the Civil War had started and he’d had no idea at the time. He later gained knowledge that the point of the war was to free him and his fellow slaves. 

Following Robert E. Lee’s April 1865 surrender, Lewis told Hurston that Union soldiers came to the boat he was working on. They then delivered the news that the slaves had finally be freed . Not content to return to his prior life, Lewis and his fellow freed slaves teamed up to purchase land in Alabama. Located near Mobile, the men transformed the land they christened Africatown. 

Though Hurston faced controversy for her handling of the book’s subject matter, she kept the book intact. Much of the book took Lewis’s exact words and put them on paper. At the time she was trying to get it published, this prevented her from being able to do so. As her readers know, Hurston was known for her controversial views on anthropology and not shying away from dialogue considered vernacular. Much of that is evident in this book. 

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History

Could the Wreck of the Last Slave Ship Have Been Found?

Cynthia Brooke

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The international slave trade was outlawed far before slavery itself was banned in the United States; however, these laws didn’t stop people from trying to smuggle in new slaves of their own. During the height of slavery, one owner of an Alabama plantation made a friendly wager with a friend that he could still smuggle slaves into this country on his boat, which he called the Clotilda; however, one a fateful day in the hot summer of 1860, this plantation owner was worried that the authorities were going to catch them. He had just returned from West Africa and had to quickly unload his slaves in the middle of the night. Then, he set his beloved Clotilda on fire in an effort to hide the evidence in the Mobile Delta.

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A Possible Discovery by a Local Reporter

Now, close to 160 years later, a reporter from Alabama claims to have possibly found the wreck of this boat. Following a “bomb-cyclone” that went through the area in January of 2018, the wreck might have been revealed. Ben Raines, a reporter for AL.com, used historical records and the journal of the Clotilda’s captain to start his search. The intrepid reporter also relied on interviews from the time, local lore, and even the memoirs of local residents.

Revealed by a Massive Cold Front, a Bomb-Cyclone

As a result of the massive cold front, a burned-out wreckage of a ship was revealed just a few miles north of the Mobile Delta, where the ship was supposedly ditched. There are iron spikes, charred wood, and what appeared to be the body of the boat. The reporter, who posted a video along with one of his recent articles, stated that he had a gut feeling that this might be the wreckage of the long-lost slave ship. He might have uncovered a piece of the international slave trade.

A Chapter of the International Slave Trade

About thirty years after setting the boat ablaze, the financier of the voyage boasted about his smuggling abilities to a local newspaper. This newspaper story highlighted the importance of the slave trade to the local area. Many slaves were brought in from Benin (located in Africa) aboard the famous ship, even after emancipation had been declared. This area was dubbed “Africatown.” Since that time, many of the local residents can trace their roots back to ancestors who were brought over on this ship, signifying the place that the Clotilda has in history. Furthermore, historians such as Sylviane Diouf have even written entire books discussing the ship.

With the Help of Drone Technology: Gathering Evidence

Raines took a drone and recorded some aerial videos and snapshots of the famous wreck once it had been uncovered. Furthermore, he even took a visit to the site of the wreckage with a specialist to analyze the build and construction of the boat. With the help of professionals, everyone agreed that the design of the ship matched that of other boats that had been built during the time period of the international slave trade. Furthermore, it did show signs that it had been set ablaze, further confirming the identity of the vessel. In order to gather more evidence and information, he will need access to the hull of the ship. It could hold other artifacts that might identify it as a slave ship. Unfortunately, this will require Raines obtaining special permits to access the body of the vessel. With more time, funding, and manpower, Raines might be able to learn more about this small piece of history.

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History

When Trucking Leads to Change

Anjali DeSimone

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The United States decision to resupply the Israeli military marked the beginning of a national crisis. In response to this decision, Arab members of the OPEC banned exports of petroleum to the United States and other supporting countries of Israel. Subsequently, oil prices quadrupled, and the economy begin to suffer. One of the people affected by this crisis was JW Edwards, A meat truck driver from Overland Park, Kansas. In an attempt to financially survive the crisis, Edwards and other truck drivers made up code names to let each other know where to find diesel fuel; however, this this did not last very long, as many gas stations did not supply enough diesel to meet trucker demand.   No gas meant no deliveries, and no deliveries meant no money. Not only was there no gas, but there had been talk of changing the maximum speed limit to fifty-five miles per hour. Edwards knew that if this continued for too long, he would be forced out of business. “I had to take things into my own hands.” he said. “My family was depending on me.” 

On the night of December 3rd, while passing through Blakeslee, Pennsylvania Edwards ran out of gas in the middle of the interstate. He had had enough. He picked up his CB radio and invited other nearby truckers to come block the interstate in protest.

When John Robinson, a local trucker from Pittsburgh Pennsylvania heard Edwards on the radio, he headed that way to show his support. Robinson knew and understood Edwards’ frustration all to well as he and his family were also feeling the affects of the oil crisis. He had been in the trucking business for thirty years, hauling lumber from state to state. Not only was this his families only source of income, but at the time, his wife had recently given birth to their fourth child. “Some nights he would come home and not say nothing,” remembers Mrs. Robinson. “I knew that he was worried, but I trusted that he would figure it out.”

The protest stretched nearly twelve miles, causing a standstill for nearly one thousand vehicles. It wasn’t long before truckers in other states followed the lead. The protest caught national attention, and although some state leaders promised changed, gas prices continued to rise. Since the protest had begun, food shortages were on the rise and the economy was a mess due to the over 100,00 people who were now unemployed.

It wasn’t until a group of six truckers from the Independent Driving Association decided to come together to speak with government officials that things begin to get better. Government officials agreed to ensure that the truck stops had enough diesel fuel to meet the demands of the truckers. They also worked together to appeal the decision to decrease the maximum speed limit.

In March of 1974, approximately six months after it had all started the embargo ended.  Negotiations between Israel and Syria were finalized. The affects of the crisis however, including the high fuel prices, lasted  throughout the 1970s.  

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History

The Start of the U.S. Oil Industry: A Gusher on This Day in 1901

Anjali DeSimone

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More than 100 years ago on this very day, the United States’s Oil Industry was born. In 1901, a derrick was drilling just outside of Beaumont, Texas on Spindletop Hill. During this process, a large amount of crude oil began gushing out of the ground, billowing into the air. It coated the landscape in all directions for hundreds of feet. With this celebratory burst, the oil industry was born. This oil geyser was buried about 1,000 feet underground and began putting out 100,000 barrels per day. It took more than a week for the workers to regain control of the situation. From this oil, the refineries got their start. Petroleum, which had been used as a lubricant in the past, started to be used for gas. This gasoline would go on to power numerous modes of transportation including trains, ships, cars, and planes.

What is Crude Oil?

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From this geyser, often termed “black gold,” crude oil would become the first industry in the world to be valued at more than one trillion dollars. This valuable liquid is a mixture of a variety of hydrocarbon molecules and compounds. It is trapped deep underneath the surface of the earth in rocks. This liquid forms over the course of millions of years. During this time, small plants and animals died and settled on the bottom of various waterways. As this material was buried and placed under a large amount of pressure, it began to heat up. Then, it melted into a liquid that became the petroleum we know as crude oil today.

The Rise of the Crude Oil Industry

The search for crude oil began decades prior to this first geyser. During the 1890s, a geologist and businessman from Texas named Patillo Higgins believed that there was oil underneath the hill outside of Beaumont. He gathered up several business partners and founded a business that set out drilling throughout the area looking for this black gold. He named his company the Gladys City Oil, Gas, & Manufacturing Company. Although his company had made a variety of unsuccessful drilling attempts, he was persistent. Just before 1900, Higgins leased a small amount of land on Spindletop to an engineer in the mining industry named Anthony Lucas. On January 10, 1901, Lucas hit his mark and the liquid billowed into the air.  Although at this point Higgins had surrendered his stake in the business, he had made his mark on history.

Rapid Growth for the Crude Oil Industry

Thanks to the discovery, Beaumont exploded. It became known as a boomtown thanks to the discovery of crude oil and the business that came with it. During the three months after the discovery by Lucas and Higgins, the population of the small town would triple. There were all sorts of people flooding the town ranging from merchants, oil workers, engineers, investors, and even con men. The con and scam problems became so bad that many people nicknamed the hill Swindletop. By 1902, there were close to 300 wells that were active on that fateful hill that were being run by more than 500 companies specializing in oil. Many of these companies are still active today including Exxon (called Humble), Texaco (called the Texas Company), and Mobil (called the Magnolia Petroleum Company). Spindletop would go on to experience a handful of booms as more and more oil was discovered. A second discovery took place in the 1920s and then a sulfur discovery gave rise to another boom in the 1950s. By this time, only a few scattered oil wells are still active in the Spindletop area.

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