Benin Town Set to Celebrate Africatown’s Cudjo Lewis, Native Son Lost to the Clotilda

BUDAL GIE, promoters of the Benin House Project slated for Prichard, Alabama, is partnering with the City of Bantè and Benin officials to organize the event, “Together, Let’s Celebrate Cudjo Oluale Kossola Lewis & His Clotilda Fellows.”

This two-day event promotes the story of Africatown, founded in 1866 by Cudjo and other of his Clotilda shipmates after the Civil War released them from slavery. For decades, he was thought to be the last living survivor of the Clotilda Africans until others were recently discovered.

For Bantè officials, it’s a time to restore, honor and celebrate a native son and all of the Clotilda Africans, starting in 2020. “We are looking forward to the day, in December 2021, when we will welcome all the descendants of the Clotilda for an intense moment of celebrating our shared history,” says Anick Santos, President of BUDAL-GIE.

The Clotilda story and the town founded by Cudjo and some of his fellow shipmates were highlighted in a segment on CBS’ Nov. 29 broadcast of 60 Minutes with Anderson Cooper (https://www.cbsnews.com/news/clotilda-slave-ship-alabama-60-minutes-2020-11-29/). He told their stories and went underwater to see the Clotilda’s wreckage, which was identified in 2019.

Santos said the celebrations also sheds light on Benin’s slave-trading history through the Kingdom of Dahomey. More people in Benin should be aware of the pain the slaves suffered on the road to the beaches of Ouidah, where Benin’s “Door of No Return” now stands.

Powerful female warriors of Glele, King of Dahomey (located in present-day Benin), sacked Cudjo’s town, kidnapping him and other prisoners of war in the Kingdom’s slave-trading business. Cudjo was among at least 110 of Glele’s 4,000 captives sold to Clotilda Captain William Foster at the port city of Ouidah. Though importing Africans for slavery was illegal in the U.S. since 1808, Foster pirated them to America in 1860, on the bet that Mobile plantation owner Timothy Meaher could get away with the crime. They sold the Africans, burned the Clotilda and sunk it in the Mobile River.

Benin’s past President Mathieu Kerekou first issued apologies for his country’s role in 1999, putting Benin on the path of reconciliation with descendants of slaves in the African Diaspora. It is an effort that started decades ago under Prichard Mayor John Smith, who died in 2008. His ashes are interred in Ouidah, Benin.

Ms. Santos can be contacted at budal.gie@gmail.com for more information in Benin. In the US, please contact Vickii Howell at vickii@avantmediacom.com, or call BUDAL USA Spokesperson Jason Lewis at +1 (757) 332-3555.