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Black News and Black Views with a Whole Lotta Attitude

National Geographic Features First Black Woman Explorer on Cover as She Dives Deep to Uncover Sunken Slave Ships

Tara Roberts quit her job as magazine editor to search the ocean floor and document the wreckage of slave ships, learning about her own history along the way.

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Image for article titled National Geographic Features First Black Woman Explorer on Cover as She Dives Deep to Uncover Sunken Slave Ships
Photo: Mark Thiessen / National Geographic (Fair Use)

Tara Roberts is the first black woman explorer to cover National Geographic. She spoke with ABC News’ Linsey Davis about how her exploration into the wreckage of slave ships aims to humanize the story of the slave trade. Roberts was inspired by a single photo.

Roberts used to be an editor at CosmoGirl, Essence and Ebony until she was suddenly moved to quit her job and pursue the exploration of sunken slave ships, per National Geographic. Roberts told ABC that while attending the National Museum of African American History and Culture, she noticed a photo of a group of Black women in wetsuits on a boat: something she had never seen before.

“It completely captured my imagination. I ended up reading more about them and I discovered that they were a part of this group called Diving with a Purpose and that their mission was to search for and document slave ship wrecks around the world and I was blown away. I knew I had to be a part of this some way,” said Roberts via ABC.

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However, upon embarking on her journey to the bottom of the sea, she didn’t anticipate the emotions that would come during her exploration.

From ABC News:

Most African-Americans faced what genealogist called at 1870 brick wall and that just means that before 1870 the US Census did not count identifying details of those who were enslaved. Most of us are not able to trace back. We’re not able to know when our ancestors’ experience. We don’t have those stories. We have a lot of the stories of pain and trauma but we don’t have stories of their lives.

It maybe seems like it should be a really sad story and I say they’re definitely sad notes - finding something like a shackle, it’s not an easy find especially when you know what happened there and what happened to the people. There were emotions that came up that I didn’t anticipate and these were emotions of pride, of empowerment, of agency.

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Roberts shared with ABC that though she couldn’t trace the ship from where her ancestors arrived from, she found the story of her great-great-grandfather with help from a genealogist. Roberts said out of the thousand estimated shipwrecks only ten have been found and documented. She documents her findings on her podcast Into the Depths, sharing not only what she discovers but also her connection to what she discovers.

“There’s something really powerful about being an ordinary person who just likes to scuba dive and saying that I’m going to raise my hand and I’m going to be a part of finding this history, honoring this history and raising it from the bottom of the ocean and back into humanity’s memory,” said Roberts via ABC.