tv Slave Wrecks Project interview CSPAN December 12, 2015 11:17pm-12:01am EST
and that was of course very, very controversial, especially among the g.a.r. the g.a.r. hated this idea. >> i feel we would keep you here for a very long time. we should perhaps allow the questions to continue outside the lecture hall, but thank you so much. [applause] and i want to remind up all that you are very welcome to join us for a reception in the garden court just to the right. people will show you the way if you don't know it. [captioning performed by national captioning institute] [captions copyright national cable satellite corp. 2015] mrs. obama: you come into this house and there is so much to do, so much coming at you. you have no time to reflect. hi, everyone, we're here digging
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archeological excavation of a slave ship wrecked off the african coast in 1794 is adding a new chapter to the story of the trade. museum director lonnie bunch and curator paul gardullo talked with american history about the saga of the sao jose. >> take us back to the day. >> december 7, 1794, a ship headed for mozambique island around the cape of good hope, for brazil, northeast brazil, came close to capetown, south
africa. capetown was often a landing point for ships before they made their way across the long atlantic voyage and this ship came too close to shore, got caught in swells in the storm and struck rocks about 100 yards, 350 feet or so from shore. the captain was captaining the ship and tried to salvage what he could from the crew. they attempted a rescue from ship to shore. he rescued himself and along with the crew he rescued about half the 400 enslaved mozambiqans aboard. the other half who had been captured from the interior of africa and brought on board the
ship in early december perished in those waves that night. >> recently the image of a young syrian boy who died, drowned, became the image of a migrant crisis taking place right now in europe. it humanized that crisis happening. is that what you want to do with the slave trade? >> in many ways history museums tell the grand story and forget to humanize them. it struck us when you think of the millions of people taken via the middle passage to the new world, many of whom perished, you realize when you start talking numbers in the millions, it's hard for the public to understand or care or even be touched by it. our goal was to say how do we humanize this slave trade by focusing on a single ship, letting people understand what
happened on that ship, who some of the people were on the ship and most importantly letting people realize that it's not about the millions, it's about, in this case, the 412. >> the slaves who survived that wreck, what happened to them after the wreck, after they came shore? >> well, after the wreck, two days later the ship captain had to testify in court -- it was a dutch court at that time -- and testify to the loss of property. that included those human beings who were lost. the other 200 and some odd people were sold back into slavery in the western cape and there they lived out their lives, what remained of them. they're lost to us right now but our research is continuing to
see if we can find descendant communities for them. >> do we know the names of any of the slaves who survived or died? >> we don't know the names of anyone but we're very lucky to bring their spirits, in some ways, back into memory, into history, so we can begin to reclaim them. >> i've heard that what you are trying to do at the museum of african-american history and culture is find the right tension between sadness and resiliency. >> obviously the story of slavery is a story of the loss of power, sometimes the loss of life, of family, so it's very sad in that regard. on the other hand, it's also a story of the resiliency of people to survive the one of the things that strikes me is often people, african-americans sometimes, are embarrassed by their slave ancestors. they want to talk about those who were free or who struck a blow for freedom.
but for me, african-americans that survived the middle passage, that survived that sort of transition to this new, horrible, harsh world really were so strong that in some ways i want people to rethink about what slavery meant, that yes, it's not something to celebrate, but to celebrate the spirit of those who triumphed, who kept family and soul together the best they could. >> story of what happened before the wreck and after the wreck. can you talk about what life was like from december 3 when the sao jose left mozambique to december 27? what would it have been like on that ship? >> well, you know, we have very little recorded testimonies if any of people who survived the middle passage that were written down. we do have the records of a variety of ships and the account that were given by both traders and the few who wrote about their experiences. you know that this is a long
voyage, right? you are three weeks on a ship in the hold. if you're a man, you are likely shackled the whole time, your feet as well as your hands. you may be taken outside to exercise above deck maybe once a day, maybe by the light of the moon, right? you're still close to africa, so there's going to be a very close watch on what's going on and on the opportunities for escape or rebellion or even in some cases suicide. if you are a woman, you may have a little bit more freedom. we need to remember that writ large, though we don't have the demographic breakdown of this particular ship, but within the slave trade and the middle passage writ large you're going
to be 25% of those who are carried across from africa were classified as children. so they are all below decks, tightly packed with other kinds of cargo. water casks, iron ballast, dunnage, material that would be used for trade and to help weigh things down. it was a horrendous experience. >> so in many ways the way to think about it is cargo. that in essence the goal here is to try to pack as many in and make as many people survive as possible for the profit margins. so on the one hand when people are taken above deck it's an effort to keep them physically fit, keep them moving, try to encourage the will to survive. the thing that's powerful when you think about what it must have been like, first of all why you may have many members of tribes who speak similar languages, many didn't, so you've got people who don't know
each other shackled together. you've also got this sense of disorientation, of where am i going? what does this mean? who are these people? so in some ways the ability to survive that is really one of the great triumphs of human history. >> and the fact that this particular ship was coming from east africa is important because up to that time most slave trade was coming from the west african coast. >> right. you're talking about 1794, the end of the century that ushered in so many rebellions, revolutions for freedom in the century, right? also the end of that century that saw the largest single century of the slave trade. historians are estimating there's around 12 million people who were transported. more than seven million in that 100 years alone, right? so it's the end of a huge century in many respects.
>> and where was the united states in its slave story in 1794? the president of the united states at that time, george washington, a slave owner. >> what you have is the 18th century you have about 600,000 enslaved africans, between 600,000 and 800,000 living in what became the united states of america and what is many involved in sugar, rice, later cotton, but what you really have is an economy that is built on the slave trade, that so much of what made america work was built on the backs of the enslaved, the labor that was provided, not just to grow the crops, but to transform the landscape, to take those swamps in south carolina and turn them into rice fields. the kind of labor that was involved. and also what you also have is this amazing sense of creating the african-american. you've got all these different africans coming together, forming an african-american culture, beginning to learn a language, wrestling with
christianity, so that you have this amazing moment of transformation and in some ways as americans we know slavery as a 19th century phenomenon. but so much of slavery, the patterns, the origins, the large numbers of people, are really an 18th century phenomenon and that's why the ship is important because it helps us refocus our attention on the earlier period that laid the foundation on which so much of the rest of the slave environment was built upon. >> and what is more, i think that you are also looking at this period following the american revolution where all these principles of liberty are being established and being struck for. not just by propertied white men, they're being articulated and forwarded by free blacks, by women, and by enslaved peoples. a revolution begins in haiti, soon after, three years before
this voyage in 1791, the enslaved and free blacks in haiti strike for revolution, right? it's the only successful large-scale slave revolution in the new world and if you are a trader and you understand the economic importance of slavery writ if you are a trader, and you understand the economic importance of slavery, you understand that the world is shifting underneath you. many of these people need to change. they begin to look to other markets. that is where mozambique comes in.
it had been oriented toward the indian ocean. it suddenly gets reorganized by the portuguese. back around the cape and primarily over to brazil. >> about a million people from mozambique are brought to brazil. well into the 19th century. slavery in brazil doesn't end until 1888. part of what this is important is that it allows us to tell that story of slave trade is much more complicated than just west africa to the united states. it helps people understand how large the impact of the slave trade was in the caribbean, in latin america. how small it was in the united states compared to that.
>> when did the last slave ship land in the united states? >> with the trade being outlawed in 1808. you begin to see the numbers decline. but you still see people smuggling in enslaved africans. the last slave ship that we know about was about 1862. near mobile alabama. the kind of smuggling that went on continued to bring in a trickle of new africans into the united states. at the same time what you see in the united states, a massive buildup of what historians call the internal slave trade, the
domestic slave trade. >> the trading of slavery in the united states ramps up. you have many people moved from the upper south down to louisiana or mississippi or texas. it is a massive trade. the largest slave trading company in the united states at that time was right here in alexandria, virginia. >> we realize that the goal of this initially was to find iconic pieces of the slave ship. we didn't set out to find any specific ship. we want people to understand by humanizing the slave trade. we looked around the world for ships. we looked in cuba. looking at ships and trying to figure out if we begin the
exploration. we wanted to make sure we found some. the project is an amazing collaboration of scholars in the united states and south africa and west africa. maritime archaeology traditionally didn't look for this. we needed to work with partners who would map the ocean floor. identify where other ships could be. we wanted to find a ship for the museum when we open. we also want to stimulate a
national and international conversation about finding the hundreds of ships that are on the ocean floor. we wanted to make sure that people in senegal had the training of the interest in the resources to look in their waters. people in brazil. people in south africa. the goal was, if this is the last frontier of knowledge, how do we help countries around the world do this? it is about education, helping to train young people to become underwater archaeologists. so they can identify and bring
up their own ships. this project will go on for many generations. helping us to learn more. >> that goes back to what we talked about in the beginning, the importance of remembering these people. these people who survived these horrific journeys. the people whose names we might not ever remember. they never survived. that is one of the most incredibly moving components of this. to trace the route of the ship from mozambique past south africa. we also want to meet the people involved. those are people in the interior. when we got to mozambique, the chiefs of the tribes took us to a spot where the enslaved were sold at an auction spot. they began to dig dirt and they put dirt in this amazingly beautiful vessel. they said to us in no uncertain terms you for this was your idea these are your ancestors. tell us what you need to do. for the first time since 1794
we had planned to have a ceremony in cape town. we were hosted by an amazing man named albie sachs who was involved in the anti-apartheid movement. we thought we would have a ceremony where i would speak. it was pouring rain, the sea was angry. you suddenly realize this could've been the day the ship
went down. it was that bad. we couldn't get boats out. we had these divers get out as far as they could. they sprinkled the soil. as soon as the sun hit the water the sun came out. so you realize, don't mess with ancestors. this was a special moment. we stood there just unbelievably connected to these people whose names we will never know.
what topped it off was, a woman that was part of the ceremony was a descendent of the mozambican slaves, read a poem. she read it in afrikaans and portuguese and english. it was that the work we were doing was allowing people to sleep in their own soil. allowing them to be remembered. allowing us the living to recognize how connected we are to this story. those of the things that make all the work that we do special. >> long before that day, talk about the research effort and how you originally found the sao jose. >> this began long before our effort. that took time.
it takes time to look through a variety of archival sources. you are looking at a combination of archival work and archaeological work and all sorts of detective work. we're talking to fishing communities. where they know of wrecks. a variety of techniques and tools that you use. detective work. diagnostic testing. so you're not having some kind of confirmation bias. this wreck. we are ready to ourselves what this is. appear in about seven or eight years. particularly because this site is like a washing machine they can't get onto it lets you are there certain points of the year. to get to some of the material. it will come back the next day and it will be covered over by sand. when we began to realize what we had. we can just uncover a ship.
-- we are talking about a period of about seven or eight years. particularly because this site is like a washing machine they can't get onto it lets you are there certain points of the year. to get to some of the material. it will come back the next day and it will be covered over by sand. when we began to realize what we had.
we can't just uncover a ship. we have covered this story that connected the world. our research had taken us to archives in the netherlands, in portugal, in mozambique, in cape town, and over to brazil. it has defined something much more. that clearly depended on the expertise and the knowledge of the team that lonnie referenced. no one small group of people could have done this. we are still diving on the ship. >> what will we see at the museum?
. >> we are still diving, but one of the things is the iron ballasts. this is one of the telltale signs. you need ballast to give that balance to the ship. we are going to bring up a couple of the ballast pieces. a pulley that talks about how the sails were used. we're still diving. that gives us a piece of the true cross. i want something -- not a whole ship. but i want people to be able to create a provocative moment. to be able to see that moment where they can look at these pieces and think about what this means and who these people were. this is a chance to revel in and wrestle with this history in an evocative way. that is what our museum really strives to do.
-- >> that is what our museum really strives to do. and it succeeds in doing so well. when you think about the importance of this story, the african-american story, and its centrality to the story of america and the world. the things we've been finding often are incredible or iconic. sometimes they are incredibly beautiful and iconic. these are objects that have been cast away. they are wrecks, they are remnants. they are rags.
to help people understand these objects things that are as simple as an iron bar to look at them in a new light adds a whole new depth and knowledge to what we are doing. >> of the more than 200 slaves who didn't make it off the ship, is there any possibility of finding any human remains? >> as the work uncovers, i would expect we probably will find some human remains. our commitment is to return those remains to mozambique to let them lay in their native soil. we haven't found any yet. as paul was saying, one of the real challenges of this site is that if you move the sand, there is work that has to be done. i think we will find human remains.
we have found a chain that is encrusted. we will find iron work like that. we will bring that to the museum. we would like to say that you will see the pieces from the sao jose. there is an amulet that was used to protect them from being taken as slaves. and you'll also see a slave shackle designed for children, a small shackle. you will hear the voices describing what the slave trade was like during the middle passage.
an evocative space that the visitors will always remember. it is going to be near the beginning of the history exhibitions. the museum has three floors of galleries. one is a historical narrative that takes you from africa well into the 21st century. another floor looks at the role of culture. another floor looks at the role of community. this would be one of the iconic moments in the museum. the museum will open in the fall of 2016. we promised president obama that he will get to cut the ribbon. we are about a year away from opening. in some ways, this whole journey for me of more than 10 years has
been unbelievably humbling journey. in some ways, it will mean that the national mall, the place where the world comes to learn what it means to be an american, will have a museum that will enrich and possibly complete our notion of what it means to be american. one of the joys of this process and the smithsonian is that the smithsonian is a place where people will come and wrestle with important questions that might they might not wrestle with in chicago or los angeles. or a museum in new york. they are coming to do the smithsonian, they trust the smithsonian. this gives us an amazing educational opportunity. millions of people who might not explore the subject anywhere
else. we have a chance to educate the world. >> paul, you are the curator. are all the exhibits is going to be ready? paul: i am one of the curators. that gives me extreme confidence that it will be ready. we have an incredible team of curators, collections people, and project managers. administrators. we are all working to ensure that we open on time and open with the best museum that the mall has. i say that with a smile. i also think what is crucial to remember is that in addition to the national museum on the national mall, which will remain an incredibly important site,
for people to come to from around the world, our work exists in communities all across the nation. the project gives us a chance to talk about our work around the world. the impact that it has on helping develop capacity. helping to bring these people and these conversations to people from mozambique to charleston, s.c. these of the kind of ways that we see our work as curators as engaging in the world. we are here on the national mall. we are also out in a variety of communities in a variety of important ways. >> the goal is that, yes this will be the first green museum on the national mall. yes, as you've heard, there is an amazing collection that people will be amazed to see.
people will be impressed and educated. the reality is that the job of the museum is to make america better. to begin to create a safe space where difficult questions of race and poverty and the possibility of america are engaged. allowing people to use history as a tool to help them live their lives. it is great to be a good museum. we will be a good museum. we want to be a place that matters. helps them realize that we are still being divided and challenged and hurt by issues of race. unless we find the safe space to debate this, we will always be divided that way. >> for the sao jose, will be a permanent exhibit?
>> right now, we are looking at a 10-year period. my hope is that this will allow us to bring in newer discoveries. expanding our notions of these ships. finding things that may have left the west coast of africa. something that was in brazil or the carribean. what our goal is, is to use the sao jose as a launching pad for a many year project to showcase what our goal is, is to use the sao jose as a launching pad for
a many year project to showcase the work of other people and . help people begin to understand how complicated and how essential the slave trade is to our understanding of who we are today. >> the recovery effort was kept under wraps for several years. at a fear of treasure hunters. are there other projects that you are currently working on that are under wraps? paul: we are working in a number of areas around the world. we have the submerged resources center. we are doing active work in and around st. croix in the u.s. virgin islands. we have archival material that documents shipwrecks there. the smithsonian is coming in. not all of these sites may prove to have shipwrecks.
but all of them, whether they are in st. croix, cuba, senegal, or other sites, they all contain potential and contain those crucial historical and community -building elements to have these ships and around the slave trade. >> you have said, you do not have the names of any of these individuals slaves who either lived or died in this shipwreck? do you wish you had a name? >> you wish you could honor them by calling their name. as long as you can say someone's name, they are never gone. i wish we could say the names. we can honor their spirits by remembering the sao jose.
our hope is that as we do this work we may find some names. but the reality is you are probably not going to. though they may be nameless, they are alive in our spirits and they are crucial to our understanding of who we are. this is a chance to say the past matters. the way the tribal folks in mozambique reacted to this helped us realize that what we are doing is more than looking back. what we are really doing is helping people to find issues that have divided us. by shining a light in all these
dark corners, we can find that reconciliation and healing that is so essential. >> do you think people will find that healing? paul: i know they will find it because of what we experienced this summer. what we experienced in terms of africans engaging with the story was revelatory. everyone will come to this with their own perspective. everyone will come with their own sense of personal, national, or ethnic understanding, or lack of connection to this history. what we're finding when we open the story up is that we can find
a connection. for everyone, to this story. maybe not personally but through lineage and the story of humanity. the power of the sao jose is something that can touch anyone. >> you were told that this was your ancestors telling you what you need to do? >> what i hope is that my ancestors are smiling. they are no longer forgotten. the story of their lives was really an inspiration. hopefully smiling because finally they get to fill out the narratives. helping us all understand who we are and how we have been shaped by the slave trade.
people forget that the slave trade is the first real international global business. so many nations of europe make their money providing the foundations for slavery. this is the economic engine of the united states, and brazil. understand the story through the eyes of those enslaved but also recognize that even if you weren't enslaved, you were shaped by this experience. >> lonnie bunch, paul gardullo, thank you so much for joining us. >> thank you. >> all persons having business before the honorable, the supreme court of the united states are admonished to draw near and give their attention. cases,"y on "landmark
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