Each year, we mark Martin Luther King Jr. Day and reflect on the legacy of one of the most influential leaders in American history. Dr. King is remembered the world over, and his message of equality and justice for all continues to inspire and guide us to this day.
Dr. King’s own family history is a testament to the importance of knowing your roots. Most famously known as a civil rights leader, Dr. King was a 4th generation Baptist preacher, having followed in the footsteps of his father, grandfather, and great-grandfather. His maternal grandfather, Rev. Adam Daniel Williams, was born in 1893 in Georgia. Williams’ father was a pastor and a slave, making him the only one of Dr. King’s grandparents to be born to slaves. His other grandfather, James Albert King was born in 1864 in Ohio, a free state, and both his grandmothers, Delia Linsey (1875-1924) and Jenny Celeste Parks (1873-1941), were born after the Civil War. Despite facing immense challenges and obstacles, Dr. King’s family overcame adversity and made an indelible impact on the American civil rights movement.
Tracing family history is an important way of connecting with one’s heritage and cultural identity, and is of particular importance for communities of color who have been historically marginalized and underrepresented in American history. In fact, many people in these communities have limited or no knowledge of where their ancestors actually came from in Africa.
Yesterday, MyHeritage was included in a special episode of The Kelly Clarkson Show in honor of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. During the episode, Kelly announced that MyHeritage has made a donation to the Africatown Heritage Preservation Foundation (AHPF), a non-profit organization dedicated to preserving the historical and cultural legacy of Africatown, a historic community just outside of Mobile, Alabama.
Africatown was built by the descendants of the enslaved passengers from the Clotilda, which was the last known ship to bring African slaves to the United States. The ship was commissioned by Alabama planter Timothy Meaher in 1859, who wanted to prove that he could evade the federal ban on the transatlantic slave trade. The Clotilda set sail in 1860, carrying 110 enslaved Africans. Upon arrival in Alabama, the passengers were disembarked and sold, while the Clotilda was burned to conceal the evidence of the illegal voyage.
The true story of the Clotilda remained a secret for over 100 years, having been transmitted orally from parent to child in their small Alabama community. That changed in the mid-20th century, when the descendants of the survivors began to come forward with their stories. In 2019, the remains of the Clotilda were discovered in the Mobile-Tensaw Delta, providing physical evidence of the ship’s existence and the illegal transatlantic slave trade.
The Clotilda’s story is portrayed in the Netflix documentary Descendant, which follows Africatown’s community leaders as they grapple with their community’s painful past and the impact of this historical crime on the town’s modern-day residents. The documentary was produced by Barack and Michelle Obama’s production company and musician Questlove, who himself is a Clotilda descendant.
The Clotilda is absent from American history books, and generations of Africatown residents worried that if they didn’t preserve their community’s tragic history, it would be erased. Descendant, together with the AHPF, ensure that Africatown’s story will be preserved for posterity, while shedding light on historical injustices across African-American history. Community residents are committed to raising awareness of their shared history and preserving their ancestors’ memory. Tracing their own family history, and understanding its connection to the wider context of American history, provides a deeper understanding of the challenges and triumphs of Dr. King’s legacy and the legacy of so many other community leaders who shaped the American civil rights movement.
At MyHeritage, we believe that everyone has a right to know their family history, and our mission is to develop technologies that make discovering that history as easy and accessible as possible. We are proud to support organizations like the Africatown Heritage Preservation Foundation that safeguard and promote the history and culture of African-American communities, and that are dedicated to working toward a more just and equitable society for all.
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Source: My Heritage