The Journey Home: National Geographic’s “Clotilda: The Return Home”

  • By Fanbase User
  • June 27 2024 · 4 min read

Fanbase Studios in Atlanta, Georgia, recently hosted an insightful discussion with Tara Roberts, the National Geographic Explorer featured in the upcoming documentary Clotilda: The Return Home. This documentary, set to air on June 17th on Disney+, unveils the untold story of the last American survivors of the Clotilda ship, Kossola Oluale and Gumpa Lee, in remembrance of Juneteenth.

The Clotilda, a slave ship that wrecked in Mobile, Alabama in the 1800s, was recently discovered in 2018. This ship carried the last known survivors of a slave ship, and some of them went on to establish a community in Mobile that still exists today. The documentary follows the descendants of two Clotilda survivors as they take the spirits of their ancestors back to Africa, providing a powerful narrative of resilience and homecoming.

Roberts has been involved with this story for over six years, initially sparked by a photograph she encountered at the National Museum of African American History and Culture. The image depicted a group of Black women in wetsuits on a boat, part of the organization Diving With a Purpose. This group, composed of Black scuba divers, searches for and documents slave shipwrecks around the world. Inspired by their mission, Roberts joined them and began documenting their work.

“In 2019, the Clotilda was found, making it the only known slave ship where the descendants know the stories of their ancestors,” Roberts shared. This discovery made the Clotilda a particularly special story for Roberts, who has dedicated herself to bringing these narratives to light.

The film, which premieres around Juneteenth, holds significant meaning. Juneteenth commemorates the delayed announcement of the abolition of slavery to those enslaved in Texas, symbolizing the delayed recognition of freedom. Clotilda: The Return Home similarly brings forth a story lost to history, highlighting the enduring spirit and resilience of the African American community.

“When I am below the surface and I am looking at an artifact of the past that can’t be denied, I feel such a sense of agency, of power, of connection to the past,” Roberts emphasized.

Roberts hopes the film will instill a sense of pride and connection to the past. The descendants of Clotilda survivors managed to create a thriving community called Africatown, demonstrating extraordinary resilience and resourcefulness. “We come from a resilient and resourceful and brilliant stock, and let’s give honor to them,” Roberts declared.

Roberts, a writer and storyteller, has worked extensively to shine a light on the origin stories of Africans in the Americas. Her dedication to uncovering and sharing these stories has earned her accolades, including being named the 2022 Rolex National Geographic Explorer of the Year.

One poignant moment in the film occurs when the descendants visit a graveyard, carrying representations of their ancestors. Roberts explained, “It felt purposeful, like we were here to do a job that would make a difference for these ancestors.”

Clotilda: The Return Home is not just a documentary; it is a journey that reconnects African Americans with their ancestors, reminding viewers of the resilience and brilliance of their heritage. “I hope people come away thinking, ‘Oh my goodness. We’re not a sad people. We come from extraordinary individuals,’” Roberts concluded.

The film is set to air on June 17th on Disney+, and promises to be a poignant reminder of the power of history and the enduring spirit of the African American community.


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