Ask a Bookseller: A new exploration of America's last slave ship and its legacy

Jake Reiss of The Alabama Booksmith near Birmingham, Ala., is looking forward to the publication of a nonfiction book on Jan. 25 that he says is sure to spark conversation.

The cover of a book
"The Last Slave Ship: The True Story of How Clotilda Was Found, Her Descendants, and an Extraordinary Reckoning," by Ben Raines
Simon & Schuster

The new book by journalist Ben Raines describes its scope in the title: "The Last Slave Ship: The True Story of How Clotilda Was Found, Her Descendants, and an Extraordinary Reckoning."

In 1859 or 1860, 50 years after the Atlantic slave trade was made illegal, a wealthy Alabama plantation owner funded passage of the Clotilda, the last known ship to transport captured West African men and women to the state, where they were sold into slavery.

After the Civil War, some of those survivors founded what is now Africatown, near Mobile. The Clotilda, meanwhile, was set alight, but most of the vessel remained intact and buried along the Mobile River in Alabama. In 2019, the wreckage was confirmed to be the Clotilda.

The book tracks the story of that ship and the descendants of the people it carried. Raines' narrative carries the reader from Alabama to Benin in West Africa and back, exploring the ongoing legacy of one slave ship to reach America's shores.

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