Dr. Robertson with slave chains around her neck.
Zoungbodji Village where the Clotilda Africans were warehoused.
Whydah, Republic of Benin. 1994
Photo Credit: Natalie S. Robertson, PhD
All Rights Reserved. May not be duplicated without permission.
Dr. Natalie S. Robertson is a magna cum laude graduate of the University of Detroit Mercy where she received a Bachelor of Arts degree in History and the Detroit Historic Memorials Society Award. As a Patricia Roberts Harris Fellow, she obtained a Master of Arts degree in Museum Studies from Hampton University. She holds a second Master of Arts degree (and a PhD) in American Studies from the University of Iowa.
Dr. Robertson is an award-winning scholar who has held research and teaching appointments at prestigious institutions in the United States and in Britain, including the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African Art, the United States National Slavery Museum (by appointment of The Honorable L. Douglas Wilder), and the Advanced Studies in England Program, in association with University College, Oxford where she taught her signature seminar course entitled “A Semiotic Exploration of the Triangular Slave Trade.” She is the recipient of the National Endowment for the Humanities Faculty Research Award that facilitated her field research in southwestern and central Nigeria, in preparation for publishing her provocative book entitled The Slave Ship Clotilda and the Making of AfricaTown, U.S.A.: Spirit of Our Ancestors that has been nominated for a Library of Virginia Literary Award.
She is one of ten scholars selected by the UNCF/Mellon Program to participate in the Faculty Seminar at Gorée Institute (Gorée Island, Senegal), facilitated by Nobel Laureate Wole Soyinka, where she discussed her seminar project entitled “Yoruba Religion As A Metaphysical Mechanism For Surviving Slavery In The New World, ” relative to Cudjo Lewis and other Yoruba-speaking Africans in the Clotilda cargo.
She is one of 49 scholars to draft the inaugural national rubric on teaching slavery entitled Engaging Descendant Communities in the Teaching of Slavery at Museums and Historic Sites, in connection with the National Summit on Teaching Slavery convened at James Madison’s Montpelier in 2018, with support from the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s African-American Cultural Heritage Action Fund.
Currently, Dr. Robertson is an Adjunct Associate Professor at Hampton University where she teaches courses in African-American history and World Civilizations.
Dr. Robertson in Cannon's Class
On November 13, 2018, Dr. Robertson returned to Howard University's campus where she reviewed the Zora Neale Hurston Papers in the historic Moorland-Spingarn Collection more than 20 years earlier in preparation for publishing the book. At Howard, and in conjunction with the College of Arts and Sciences Freshman Seminar Common Text Symposium, Dr. Robertson delivered a slide-presentation entitled "From Barracoon to AfricaTown: How The Clotilda Captives Overcame Their Victimization." The highlight of the event included being interviewed by Nick Cannon in a session of Cannon's Class. Produced and moderated by Nick Cannon, Cannon's Class is designed to expand one's knowledge, raise one's consciousness, and empower citizens through the knowledge of Black History.
The Griot's Corner
"After 15 years of research, from Benin to Alabama, historian Robertson offers a detailed reconstruction of the illegal voyage of the Clotilda and the amazing effort of the Africans to re-create lives for themselves in a strange land, as well as the traditions and cultures of the land they left behind. Robertson talked to Africans on both sides of the Atlantic to explore the complexities of the slave trade and continued cultural connections. She includes photographs of the descendants in America and Africa and the ties they continue to share....[T]his book will also appeal to readers interested in how black Americans have retained African culture."
“…[A] superbly researched ethnographic monograph of the African origins and the fortitude of survival in slave society Alabama of 75 captives, who in 1860 were illegally transported across the Atlantic Ocean in defiance of federal laws against trafficking human cargo. She engages the reader in more than just the on-board, inhumane conditions that confronted the human cargo it transported. Through diligent, scholarly retrieval of the ethnographic and cultural data in Nigeria, combined with interviews of the captives in the early part of the last century, the book tells the story of who the 75 individuals were in terms of African origins, as well as how their indomitable African spirit of resiliency sustained them through the short period of enslavement and the eventual founding of AfricaTown in Mobile, Alabama… This book is recommended for readers at the college and high school levels as well as the general reading public. ”
“… Robertson draws on African fieldwork and almost 50 interviews 'to metaphysically connect' the 'Clotilda's' captives to their West African cultures… Robertson concludes that the Clotilda captives originally were enslaved in separate raids and derived from many Yoruba cultures. She credits the 'Clotilda' descendants with resiliency, self-help, and survival based on their West African traditions.”
"There are a number of fine historical examinations of Africans in the diaspora, but few offer an approach as interesting as Natalie S. Robertson's study of the persistence of African culture among slaves in AfricaTown, Alabama. The Slave Ship Clotilda is at once historical scholarship and a journey of self-discovery. At its core is Robertson's use of oral history and archival research to trace the development of one community as its members confronted the challenges of being African in nineteenth-century America."
International Journal of Foreign Studies
"Robertson skillfully traces individual survivors back to specific geographic regions and makes plausible arguments as to where they likely came from based on admittedly tenuous evidence."
Journal of Social History
"...the information provided expands our knowledge about African cultural values, attitudes, and naming practices...the study contains a good deal of useful and original data."
"A masterful reconstruction of the slave ship Clotilda's transatlantic smuggling voyage within the context of the illegal period in the slave trade, emphasizing the extent to which her West African captives rose above their victimization as enslaved peoples by drawing on their indigenous ideas, practices, worldviews, and values. A must read for those seeking to understand, and be inspired by, the genius, the resiliency, and the spirit of our ancestors and for those desiring a new, well-documented reference on the African origins of Black peoples. Would make a great feature film for all audiences."—Dr. William H. Cosby, Educator
"This is a brilliant historical analysis which is well written, profoundly enlightening, and daring, demonstrating the highest form of intellectual and historical analysis. Full of facts and sure to become a major work in African American history. Robertson must be commended for such a fine piece of scholarship that constitutes a remarkable achievement. Should be required reading of every American."—Dr. Molefi Kete Asante, Author of The History of Africa.
"Dr. Natalie Robertson gives a riveting account of a little known true story about the Clotilda Ancestors and their descendants. She speaks with a clear voice that is as informative as it is bold and compelling. With a researcher's skill, she lays the groundwork that enables them to speak their long-silenced truths."—Dr. Cynthia Jacobs Carter, Author of the National Geographic book Africana Woman: Her Story Through Time.
"This is a long overdue and most welcome addition to the scholarly library on transatlantic slavery. One valuable contribution of the book is that it raises the voices of indigenous chiefs and scholars who have been overlooked in previous studies. Nothing surpasses this book in originality, depth, and scope. The book will help Africans and African Americans to expand and deepen their transatlantic cultural connections."—Dr. Akintunde Akinyemi, Author of Yor^D`ub^D'a Royal Bards: Their Work and Relevance in the Society.
February 9 - Keynote Speaker. The Descendants of the Clotilda Present: Spirit of Our Ancestors. 12 -4 p.m. Mobile County Training School. Mobile, Alabama.
February 23 - Keynote Speaker. The inaugural African American Cultural and Genealogy Conference sponsored by the Newport News Public Library (10 am - 5 pm). The theme of the conference is "Family and Community." Newport News Public Library . Main Street Branch. 110 Main Street Newport News, VA 23601.
April 12 - Facilitator of Teacher's Workshop entitled "Teaching Slavery Using the Clotida Case as a Didactic Framework." Sponsored by the Alabama Humanities Foundation as a part of statewide consideration of Alabama’s Bicentennial. Troy University (Montgomery Campus).
40 Whitley Hall. 231 Montgomery Street. Montgomery, Alabama.
April 13 - The Slave Ship Clotilda and the Making of AfricaTown, U.S.A.: Spirit of Our Ancestors. Lecture and Book-signing. Director's Chat. Hampton University Museum. Hampton, Virginia.