Ghosts of AFRICAN TOWN by Irene Latham and Charles Waters

G.P. Putnam's Sons/
Penguin Random House
AFRICAN TOWN is an historical verse novel told in 14 voices, about the Africans kidnapped and brought to America in 1860 aboard the Clotilda (known as the last American slave ship) and the home in Alabama they created for themselves, then called African Town (now known as Africatown). 

It is also a ghost story in the sense that Charles and I were writing about real people whose stories haunt us, both breaking our hearts and inspiring us still today. 

Our primary goal was to honor these ghosts and their descendants, and to tell a triumphant and truthful story. 

Learn more this month when the documentary film DESCENDANT releases on Netflix. Here's the powerful trailer.


And here's a poem (with "ghosts") from the book in the voice of a young Yoruba woman, age 16 at the time of capture, who's just arrived in America after the tortuous overseas journey. Anything is made more bearable when one has a friend. 

Thanks so much for reading!



When the sailors open the hold to let us out,
      I run my hand along the scratches I’ve made
to mark the days. Ogójì. “Ogójì,” Kêhounco confirms.
           We’ve been on the Clotilda for forty days.

My legs tremble as we climb the stairs. What will we see?
     For a moment the ghosts I left behind swirl around me,
but I push them back. They are of no use to me here.
           They would only weigh me down.

I reach for Kêhounco’s hand, for what’s real. Her fingers
     are warm in mine, even though now we can’t offer
each other much more than bones. Whatever fate awaits us,
           we will face it together. Just as we have done all along.

Irene Latham is a grateful creator of many novels, poetry collections, and picture books, including the coauthored Can I Touch Your Hair? Poems of Race, Mistakes, and Friendship, which earned a Charlotte Huck Honor, and The Cat Man of Aleppo, which won a Caldecott Honor. Irene lives on a lake in rural Alabama.


  1. What a powerful story and beautiful poem. Thank you so much for writing and sharing these important stories!

  2. I love this book and the story of the Clotilde survivors.


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