Juneteenth 2024: 'Clotilda: The Return Home' Shows How a Black Woman Fulfilled Her Ancestor’s Wildest Dream

The hour-long National Geographic documentary celebrates the spirit of Juneteenth.

“My ancestors’ wildest dream” has become a popular idiom recently. While many of us believe we’re fulfilling them just by thriving, one Black woman got to make her ancestor’s specific, actual dream request come true. 

Clotilda: The Return Home,” a new documentary coming to National Geographic in time for Juneteenth, chronicles how Altevese Rosario,  great-great-great-granddaughter of a man captured in what’s now Benin, West Africa, and taken to Alabama, got to fulfill a wish he always had: go back to Africa. “It was a big deal,” the Philadelphia-based educator tells “For my family, because we can trace the exact space, the exact place, and the moment in time where our history was snatched, it was important for us to return to that space to reconnect to our fullness and to really become our full selves.” 

Her ancestor, Kossola Oluale -- slave name Cudjo Lewis -- was among the last known survivors of the Cotilda. This slave ship in 1860 took the final trip bringing Africans into the United States, landing in Alabama. Importing new enslaved people into America had been outlawed by federal decree more than 50 years prior, and for a long time, people (guess which people!) denied the ship ever existed. But in 2019, researchers like diver Tara Roberts (who appears in the film) found wreckage from the ship, confirming its existence and putting an official end to lies and denials that it existed. The discovery also allowed descendants of the 109 Africans on the ship to honor their ancestors and pry open their family histories in new ways.

Walt Disney Company

Rosario says she was at a dinner party about two years ago, discussing Kossola’s wish to bring him home (via remains and soil from his burial site) when a producer told Rosario she’d help in her mission. “I was like, ‘Wow, for real?’ And honestly, not to discredit her, but I didn't think much of it. Maybe six months later, she contacted us and said, ‘Nat Geo wants to do this.’”

Thus began an epic odyssey that we see on screen in “Clotilda: The Return Home, as Rosario and her family members tell the story of their ancestor, the ship, their goal to help him get back home, and their long, days-long sojourn to West Africa. While there, viewers get to see the astonishment, the awe, and yes, the pain of standing at the exact places where their forefathers and so many others were taken away from their homeland, bound on a hellish journey across the Atlantic for a foreign land. For generations, the area where Kossola and others who’d been captive retained its unique cultural identity as Africatown––a community of people who held on fiercely to traditions. Yet there’s no place like home, and Kossola expressed his wish to return to his homeland. He died in 1935 without ever making it, but in “Clotilda: The Return Home,” we see how important it is for Rosario and her kin to get him there. 

“What I found since being a part of this work,” Roberts says, “is that most stories centered around enslavement are stories of death of pain. But what Clotilda is giving us it's a story of life. It's a story of what happened before. And I think that there is an absolute change in how you see yourself when your stories are coming from that room, versus the other.” 

Rosario agrees, and the film lets us witness her bittersweet joy in finally fulfilling his wish and retracing his steps as a strong but frightened young man about to embark on an unthinkable journey. “I was truly speechless,” she says. “ It was almost like meeting your birth family, knowing you have this history that you know about, and never been able to fully connect with, and all of a sudden, these questions that you had about yourself are now being answered in real time. It was a reckoning; it was [our family] connecting into our true energy.” 


“Clotilda: The Return Home” is now airing on National Geographic, Disney+ and Hulu.

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