African Town: Inspired by the True Story of the Last American Slave Ship by Charles Waters and Irene Latham
In 1859, over 100 free residents of the area now known as Benin were kidnapped and shipped across the Atlantic in appalling conditions aboard the Clotilda. When they arrived in Alabama, they were sold into slavery by the ship’s financier Timothy Meaher, who had organized their illegal kidnapping and transport based on a bet. Years later, as the Civil War came to a close, many of the new arrivals organized a successful self-governing community in Alabama known by the name of “African Town.” Forty years of their history, from the shores of Africa to the swamps of Alabama, are re-told and imagined in this YA historical novel-in-verse.
The novel is impeccably constructed, utilizing over a dozen characters (each of whom is given their own distinct poetic form), to cover a large swath of time. This history is deeply sobering, detailing slave trading forty years after it was deemed illegal in the United States. And one of the unforgivable villains is, in fact, Mainer William Foster, who captained the Clotilda across the Atlantic. However, the novel also celebrates the extraordinary tenacity and successes of the residents of African Town. YA and Adult readers of historical fiction and poetry will find this novel-in-verse to be valuable, memorable, and beautifully told.