What if you could be one of the first people to touch a piece of your own history? Or even more incredibly, be the one to discover and write that history for future generations? For the first time ever, a generation of divers of African descent are telling the untold stories of their ancestors by becoming the maritime archeologists who are finding, identifying, and writing the history of shipwrecks long lost. Here’s why this is so awesome.
Of the estimated 1,000 vessels that were shipwrecked during the 380 years of the transatlantic slave trade, only 5 have been found. And of those, only 2 have been identified and excavated. That means there are 995+ ships’ worth of missing information! But these folks from the Slave Wrecks Project and Diving With a Purpose are diving to the depths to uncover this long-lost history that can start connecting the dots for the whole world.
This is a story of what’s possible when we give people the opportunity to combine their sense of adventure with their sense of responsibility.
Diving With a Purpose
“What we can do is gather knowledge and pass it on. So that it doesn’t stop at one generation of people.” — Dr. Albert José Jones, Founder of the National Association of Black Scuba Divers
The Slave Wrecks Project, hosted by the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture, is on a mission “to humanize the history of the global slave trade [to] increas[e] all people’s capacity to understand a trade that shaped the world in which we live.” 1 It is an undertaking that combines maritime archeology, historical research, and the help of organizations like Diving With a Purpose to tell untold stories and write history with a new perspective!
To honor the people who lost their lives on the voyages of the transatlantic slave trade, these divers are finding, putting names to, and commemorating these long-lost ships.
As they do, they’re not only filling in the missing pieces from our world’s history but providing a sense of healing to so many. The stories they uncover will remind you of how important it is that we empower everyone to write and celebrate their own histories and share them with the world.
So, let’s meet a few of these adventurers and hear how they’re educating the next generation of divers and explorers to carry on their legacy in this remarkable piece from National Geographic.
You can learn more about Diving With a Purpose’s work with the Slave Wrecks Project in this short video. And for more information about the Slave Wrecks Project, please head over to their website where you can learn about their latest research.
And of course, you can find more content about this fascinating world of ours over on National Geographic’s YouTube channel!
Want to get involved?
Until now, very little of the history most people know and learn about has covered the human journey of Africans to the Americas from the point of view of people of African descent. But organizations like Diving With a Purpose are teaching and empowering Black divers to ask questions that have not been asked before, and approach the archeology of these ships with an entirely new perspective.
If you would like to support the work of Diving with a Purpose, or if you are a diver and would like to get involved with their work, here is a link to their website where you can find out more about getting involved. As of now, they are still accepting applications to their October 2021 program!
Why This History Matters
“Where do we put our sorrow, where do we reconcile our history, and where do we reconnect with our heritage?” —Mary Elliott, Slavery Curator, Slave Wrecks Project National Museum of African American History
So much of who we are comes from knowing where we came from. The stories of our ancestors build generation over generation to weave our understanding of ourselves. But being able to track your history is a remarkable privilege only some of us have. Unfortunately, when we aren’t given the ability to connect with our past we can find ourselves missing a piece of ourselves.
When we’re able to tell and understand the stories of our ancestors, it’s a powerful tool of connection that enriches us, and gives context to our lives and the world as we know it today. That’s exactly why the Slave Wrecks Project’s work is so incredible! Filling in these blanks for so many is vitally important. Because of them, a new community of people have the ability to write and tell the essential stories of their ancestors and our world’s timeline that were once entirely lost.
Our world and our communities are made so much richer when we learn about and celebrate the diversity of our history. Including all people in our history books and holding space for each other can only strengthen our communities. And sometimes, even heal them.
This is a thread that we see over and over!
Inside each of these three articles, you’ll find more examples of how important it is that we protect, tell, and celebrate the histories and stories from all corners of the globe. They’re some of my favorites, so give them a look!
By celebrating our collective history, we all can enrich our lives.
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- “Slave Wrecks Project.” National Museum of African American History and Culture, Dec. 2018, nmaahc.si.edu/explore/initiatives/slave-wrecks-project. Accessed 11 Mar. 2021. ↩
- National Geographic. “These Divers Search for Slave Shipwrecks and Discover Their Ancestors | National Geographic.” YouTube, 18 Aug. 2019, www.youtube.com/watch?v=u2l_EugvRw8. Accessed 11 Mar. 2021. ↩