From Captives to Community

In Descendant, Kern Jackson MA’91 documents the discovery of the last illegal slave ship and the people who never forgot it.

Cover of "Descendant" featuring illustration of girl facing waterfront

Descendant is the most intimate account of the slave ship Clotilda, thanks to rare footage. Courtesy of Participant / Netflix

The last known illegal slave ship, the Clotilda, reached the shores of present-day Mobile, Alabama, almost 40 years after African slave trading became a capital offense in the United States. The ship was intentionally destroyed upon its arrival — its remnants were only discovered in 2019 — but its legacy lives on in Africatown, a community founded by descendants of the enslaved Africans aboard the ship.

In Descendant (2022), cowriter and coproducer Kern Jackson MA’91 shares the stories that have kept the Clotilda’s memory alive among the residents of Africatown. According to the Hollywood Reporter, while the documentary is not the first account of the Clotilda, it is among the most intimate, thanks to the rare footage, interviews, and images provided in part by Jackson, a folklorist and director of the African American studies program at the University of South Alabama.

“All of our ancestors are helping to reveal this narrative of resilience,” Jackson says. “As a folklorist, my preoccupation is with the nuances. The nooks and crannies of culture are my inspiration for the historical truths and perspectives brought to this film.”

Descendant premiered at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival and won a U.S. Documentary Special Jury Award for creative vision. The film is a Netflix original presented by Participant and Higher Ground, President Barack Obama and Michelle Obama’s production company, in association with Two One Five Entertainment.


Published in the Fall 2022 issue


  • Lang Coaxum September 5, 2022

    Absolutely, incredible,I saw the film ,I cried and continue to be in awe of the work that
    Dr Kern Jackson produce in and outside the classroom in addition to exposing
    students to readings and the many field experiences. He is an outstanding communicator of so many aspects of Mobile history and herstory stories that are now being told throughout Alabama.
    You are a gift Dr Jzckson to all of US!

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