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Image: Diving with a purpose divers surveying a ship wreck

Uncovering a History Lost at Sea: The Slave Wrecks Project

What if you could be one of the first people to touch a piece of your own history? Or even more incredibly, be the one to discover and write that history for future generations? For the first time ever, a generation of divers of African descent are telling the untold stories of their ancestors by becoming the maritime archeologists who are finding, identifying, and writing the history of shipwrecks long lost. Here’s why this is so awesome.

Of the estimated 1,000 vessels that were shipwrecked during the 380 years of the transatlantic slave trade, only 5 have been found. And of those, only 2 have been identified and excavated. That means there are 995+ ships’ worth of missing information! But these folks from the Slave Wrecks Project and Diving With a Purpose are diving to the depths to uncover this long-lost history that can start connecting the dots for the whole world.

This is a story of what’s possible when we give people the opportunity to combine their sense of adventure with their sense of responsibility.

Image: Diving with a purpose divers surveying a ship wreck as they would on a Slave Wrecks Project dive
Source: Advisory Council on Historic Preservation

Diving With a Purpose

“What we can do is gather knowledge and pass it on. So that it doesn’t stop at one generation of people.”

— Dr. Albert José Jones, Founder of the National Association of Black Scuba Divers

The Slave Wrecks Project, hosted by the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture, is on a mission “to humanize the history of the global slave trade [to] increas[e] all people’s capacity to understand a trade that shaped the world in which we live.” 1

It is an undertaking that combines maritime archeology, historical research, and the help of organizations like Diving With a Purpose to tell untold stories and write history with a new perspective!

To honor the people who lost their lives on the voyages of the transatlantic slave trade, these divers are finding, putting names to, and commemorating these long-lost ships.

As they do, they’re not only filling in the missing pieces from our world’s history but providing a sense of healing to so many. The stories they uncover will remind you of how important it is that we empower everyone to write and celebrate their own histories and share them with the world.

So, let’s meet a few of these adventurers and hear how they’re educating the next generation of divers and explorers to carry on their legacy in this remarkable piece from National Geographic.

Via: National Geographic 2

You can learn more about Diving With a Purpose’s work with the Slave Wrecks Project in this short video. And for more information about the Slave Wrecks Project, please head over to their website where you can learn about their latest research.

And of course, you can find more content about this fascinating world of ours over on National Geographic’s YouTube channel!

Want to get involved?

Until now, very little of the history most people know and learn about has covered the human journey of Africans to the Americas from the point of view of people of African descent. But organizations like Diving With a Purpose are teaching and empowering Black divers to ask questions that have not been asked before, and approach the archeology of these ships with an entirely new perspective.

If you would like to support the work of Diving with a Purpose, or if you are a diver and would like to get involved with their work, here is a link to their website where you can find out more about getting involved. As of now, they are still accepting applications to their October 2021 program!

Why This History Matters

“Where do we put our sorrow, where do we reconcile our history, and where do we reconnect with our heritage?”

—Mary Elliott, Slavery Curator, Slave Wrecks Project National Museum of African American History

So much of who we are comes from knowing where we came from. The stories of our ancestors build generation over generation to weave our understanding of ourselves. But being able to track your history is a remarkable privilege only some of us have. Unfortunately, when we aren’t given the ability to connect with our past we can find ourselves missing a piece of ourselves.

When we’re able to tell and understand the stories of our ancestors, it’s a powerful tool of connection that enriches us, and gives context to our lives and the world as we know it today. That’s exactly why the Slave Wrecks Project’s work is so incredible! Filling in these blanks for so many is vitally important. Because of them, a new community of people have the ability to write and tell the essential stories of their ancestors and our world’s timeline that were once entirely lost.

Our world and our communities are made so much richer when we learn about and celebrate the diversity of our history. Including all people in our history books and holding space for each other can only strengthen our communities. And sometimes, even heal them.

This is a thread that we see over and over!

In each of these articles, you’ll find more examples of how important it is that we protect, tell, and celebrate the histories and stories from all corners of the globe. They’re some of my favorites, so give them a look!

How Everyday Heroes Have Protected This Treasure for Centuries!

In the city of Timbuktu, generations of everyday heroes have risked their lives for a remarkable treasure! What kind of treasure could possibly be this important?

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A Bonsai Master’s Perspective on the Legacy You’re Leaving Behind

The ancient art of bonsai can teach you a lot about how to leave a legacy behind for generations to come. Whether or not you decide to take up your pruning sheers, bonsai master Chiako Yamamoto has some words of wisdom for you!

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Ukraine Family Uses Etsy to Keep Heirloom Weaving Tradition Alive

In the Carpathian mountains of Ukraine, the Kischuk family has taken to the internet to keep the centuries old tradition of weaving lizhnyk blankets alive. From sheep to final shipping, Natalya Kischuk and her husband Yaroslov, along with their children, use traditional methods handed down for generations to craft beautiful blankets, rugs, and clothing that are now enjoyed by people around the globe.

Read Article Watch Video Listen to Podcast

By celebrating our collective history, we all can enrich our lives.

Stay beautiful & keep laughing!


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  1. “Slave Wrecks Project.” National Museum of African American History and Culture, Dec. 2018, nmaahc.si.edu/explore/initiatives/slave-wrecks-project. Accessed 11 Mar. 2021.
  2. National Geographic. “These Divers Search for Slave Shipwrecks and Discover Their Ancestors | National Geographic.” YouTube, 18 Aug. 2019, www.youtube.com/watch?v=u2l_EugvRw8. Accessed 11 Mar. 2021.
Image: Liesl Ulrich-Verderber

Liesl Ulrich-Verderber


Since 2015, Liesl has been a writer, editor, and is now the CEO at the Goodness Exchange. She is a life-long camera-toting traveler, a global story seeker, and an aspiring—but more often root-tripping—outdoor enthusiast. She can be found on Instagram @Liesl.UV

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