Redoshi (also known as Sally Smith) should be universally known and venerated for what she endured — and how she endured it. Michael Harriott, writing at The Root, identifies Redoshi as the last survivor of American slave trading. Until recently, this “honor” was generally given to Oluale Kossola (aka Cudjo Lewis), who died in 1935 and is memorialized in Zora Neale Hurston‘s Barracoon, published in 2018, many years after Hurston’s death.
Redoshi lived until 1937. Her story has been uncovered by Dr. Hannah Durkin. LIke Kossola, Redoshi was brought here on the illegal slave ship Clotilda in 1860, 52 years after importation of human chattel from Africa had been outlawed. After emancipation, she stayed with her daughter on the plantation where they had been property. In her later years, she became active in the early the civil rights movement
Durkin’s research should not be groundbreaking. All of this has been known before.
Zora Neale Hurston interviewed Redoshi during Hurston’s initial work on Barracoon. Durkin found film of Redoshi, which is the only known footage of a survivor of the transatlantic slave trade. Civil rights pioneer Amelia Boynton even mentioned Redoshi in her memoir, a fact that underscores the erasure of black history—especially the history of black women.
Although most of the information was publicly available, Durkin’s work, published in the Journal of Slavery and Abolition, tells Redoshi’s story in a narrative that was previously inaccessible. Durkin paints the picture of a complex woman and the brutality of chattel slavery by telling the story of one of the few people on earth to endure African abduction, chattel slavery and emancipation.
In the context of remembeing and honoring Redoshi, Harriott also calls out Amelia Boynton (Robinson), another black woman whose name should be a household word.
Here’s Harriott again:
Redoshi’s name is as forgotten to some as the work of Boynton, who was quite literally one of the founders of the modern civil rights movement. She became one of the first black registered voters in Alabama in 1934 and began teaching other black voters how to pass the then-legal literacy tests for voter registration. She became the first black woman from Alabama to run for Congress. And when Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. showed up for the “Bloody Sunday” Selma to Montgomery march, it was Boynton who made the call.
Say their names.