Netflix’s “Descendant” is a gripping documentary that explores the history of Africatown and Lewis Quarters, two communities near Mobile, Alabama. They are made up of the descendants of African slaves who were brought to America in 1860 aboard the last known slave ship, the Clotilda. While the ship was only part of oral history and hearsay after it was allegedly burned and sunk in the Alabama River, that all changed in 2019 when journalist Ben Raines and the owner of car company, Joe Turner, came across the remains of the legendary ship. Well, let’s find out more about their experiences and current whereabouts, shall we?
Who are Ben Raines and Joe Turner?
Ben Raines is an award-winning environmental journalist and filmmaker, born in Birmingham, Alabama, and moved to Oregon at the age of one. He studied film at New York University, after which he moved to Mobile, Alabama to work as an environmental reporter at the Press-Register. Additionally, he has directed numerous documentaries, including “Alabama Eden”, “America’s Amazon”, and “The Underwater Forest”.
Ben had heard several stories about the Clotilda wreck from the locals, and as he himself was keen to discover more, so he set out to find the wreck on his own. He was helped by Joe Turner, the owner of East Bay Automotive and Machine Shop Inc., a general auto repair shop in Daphne, Alabama. He has been an automotive enthusiast since his teenage years and studied automotive functions at Southwest State Technical College in Mobile. In 1998, Joe launched his company, which has become one of the best in the industry in Alabama.
In January 2018, a North American blizzard storm caused low tides, which made the suspected remains of Clotilda visible in the lower Mobile-Tensaw Delta. Ben noticed the Meaher family branding in the area – Tim Meaher was the businessman who brought the ship to the United States. So, in April 2018, Ben assembled a team with the University of Southern Mississippi; they surveyed the 12 Mile Island section of the river, which had remained untouched on several wreckage trips so far.
After an entire year of secret study, the commission announced the remains to the public in May 2019. Ben and Joe’s hard work resulted in a groundbreaking discovery that changed the course of African American history in Alabama. He helped enrich the narrative by giving the people of Africatown and the surrounding area a part of their heritage. The Clotilda was the last known slave ship to arrive in the United States, and the descendants of her survivors were overjoyed to find this missing piece of their ancestry.
Where is Ben Raines today?
After being the first to discover the wreck of the Clotilda, Ben Raines received much recognition for his contributions to the study of slavery in the United States. He went on to write the 2022 book ‘The Last Slave Ship: The True Story of the Discovery of Clotilda, Her Descendants, and an Extraordinary Judgment’, which delves into the history of Clotilda survivors and the early years of Africatown.
Additionally, Ben has shared his research and findings with many prestigious media such as National Geographic, The LA Times, and the Smithsonian National Museum. He is actively involved with Africatown residents and with organizations such as Clotilda Descendants Association in the establishment of the Africatown Heritage House Museum. Besides the book, Ben has made another documentary called “Carnivorous Kingdom”, which explores carnivorous plants and their qualities. The environmental journalist currently lives with his wife in Fairhope, Alabama.
Where is Joe Turner today?
Joe Turner played a lesser-known but vital role in the search for Clotilda’s remains and helped Ben and the team navigate the waters with his advice and assistance from automotive experts. Not only that, he even chronicled their experiences through his precise photographs, allowing researchers to correlate findings with previous material. Joe currently lives in Fairhope with his family and had worked full time with a tree service business since 2018. He occasionally visits his auto shop in Daphne to help his son Alex, who has taken over the business.
Read more: Where are Clotilda’s descendants now?