If we are going to erase the centuries of misinformation and mythology about black people, then the real history of the slave trade and slavery in America must be told. The brutality of the institution and the methods used to steal black people from their homeland have been incredibly under researched, but that’s changing. Diving With A Purpose is one of the organizations leading the charge. The organization is dedicated to finding, documenting and protecting sunken slave ships around the world, and many of the divers doing the work are young and black. It is an amazing way to spend a vacation, get certified as an Archaeologist, and help chronicle this brutal but important part of our past.
So far the organization has documented more than 18 wrecks in 6 countries and the work is expanding. One of those wrecks is the Spanish Pirate ship Guerrero, which sunk near the Southern end of Florida’s Biscayne National Park in 1827. The ship contained 561 slaves on their way to Havana to be sold to work in the fields of the sugar cane and coffee plantations. Although the slave trade had been outlawed the Guerrero was still hoping to bring its illegal cargo into port without detection. The slaves were shackled and kept in a space only 3 to 4 ft high and forced to live in their own urine and feces. Forty-one of the slaves on board drowned or were crushed when the ship hit a coral reef and its hull was split wide opened. So documenting the Guerrero wreckage means working on a find that is also a final resting place for those who perished.
According to the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database, about 10.7 million people were kidnapped and trafficked to the New World. The Guerrero Project estimated that in addition to those who were enslaved, an added 90 million people died during “capture, internment, and the ocean journey.” To put that figure in perspective, that is more than twice the Black population in the U.S. today. A large of those who perished died on slave ships that were bound for the new world but never made it. That means there is a massive amount of wreckage and artifacts that have been sitting at the bottom of the sea for centuries.
How do you explain the lack of research on the sunken ships of the Middle Passage? Well less than one percent of Archaeologists in the U.S. are black. Combine that with the low numbers of certified black divers and the picture begins to become clearer. The search for the ship is part of the Divers With A Purpose program and more than 300 adult and youth divers have been trained and received certification as Archaeology Survey Divers. In other words we are uncovering our own history that has been buried underwater and buried by historians for hundreds of years.
The program was founded by Ken Stewart, a member of the National Association of Black Scuba Divers, and the youth arm of the organization trains young divers from 16-23 to be a part of the mapping, recovery and restoration process. They also have a coral restoration program. It’s an incredible way to have be a part of the process of change. Contact the program at Divingwithapurpose.org or 615-730-4906.