Alabama steamship owner Timothy Meaher financed the last slave vessel that brought African captives to the United States, and he came out of the Civil War a wealthy man.
His descendants, with land worth millions, are still part of Mobile society’s upper crust.
The people whom Meaher enslaved, however, emerged from the war with freedom but little else. Census forms that documented Meaher’s postwar riches list them as laborers, housewives, and farmers with nothing of value. Many of their descendants today hold working-class jobs.
Now, the history of Meaher and the slave ship Clotilda may offer one of the more clear-cut cases for slavery reparations, with identifiable perpetrators and victims.
While no formal push for reparations has begun, the subject has been bubbling up quietly among community members since earlier this year, when experts said they found the wreckage of the Clotilda in muddy waters near Mobile. Some say too many years have passed for reparations; others say the discovery of the ship makes the timing perfect.
Many Clotilda descendants say reconciliation with the Meahers would suffice, perhaps a chance to discuss an intertwined history. Others hope the family helps with ambitious plans to transform a downtrodden community into a tourist attraction. Some want cash; some want nothing.