Redoshi – The Last African Slave

Photo of Redoshi and her husband William Smith
Redoshi and William Smith circa 1900 | Courtesy of Wikipedia

Zora Neale Hurston located and interviewed Redoshi, known as Sally Smith,  in 1927, while doing research on slave stories for a novel.  Hurston never published Redoshi’s story but wrote to Langston Hughes about her, saying Redoshi would be their secret.  However, Redoshi was found by others writing  slave stories and she appeared in an interview in 1932, an educational film in 1938, and was referenced in a memoir in 1979.  By doing a search of these sources and census information we can piece together a picture of Redoshi’s life.

We know Redoshi was kidnapped by Dahoman warriors when she was 12 during a night raid.  She was transported in 1860 to Mobile Bay, Alabama on board the Clotilda, the last known slave ship from Africa.  Redoshi was married off to another slave and sold as a couple to Washington Smith.  She remained a slave for 5 years when the 13th amendment was passed.  After that she remained with her husband and daughter on the Smith plantation working as tenant farmers.  Eventually she moved with her family to a community known as Bogue Chitto in the Black Belt region of Alabama where they lived in a 1-room shack.  Redoshi died in 1937 at approximately 90 years old.

Screen capture photo of Redoshi from the film The Negro Farmer
Redoshi | Courtesy of the US Department of Agriculture National Archives

Redoshi is important not because she was the last surviving slave from Africa, but because we have her story.  Because Redoshi resisted white assimilation, we can learn about the culture, spirituality, and language of her West African heritage that she passed on to others.  Redoshi provided a deeper understanding of what it was like to be an African during that time in American history.  She also serves as a source of potential new information.

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