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When do we remember the Sultana?

In the last 3 articles we've asked the questions WhyWho, and What in regard to remembering the Sultana. In this post, I'd like to offer the following thoughts about When we should remember the Sultana.

In just under three hours from the time of this writing, April 27 at about 2:00 a.m. will mark the 153rd anniversary of the Sultana disaster. Anniversaries are natural times to remember historic events and this one will be no different for those of us who often recall the story of the tragedy. It will be especially poignant for a number of folks who belong to the Association of Sultana Descendants and Friends. Tomorrow evening,  approximately 100 members of the group will convene in Selma, Alabama to begin a two-day, annual commemoration of the worst maritime disaster in U.S. history.

Cahaba prison drawing

Cahaba prison drawing

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What are we remembering about the Sultana?

What, exactly, are we remembering when we think about the Sultana? There are so many aspects to the story. But I believe the main thread of the disaster and its aftermath can be summarized in three words or phrases:

TragedyThe word "tragedy" is defined as "an event causing great suffering, destruction, and distress . . . ." The explosion, burning, and sinking of the Sultana meets that definition. Had the boat hit a river snag and slowly sank with only the crew aboard, giving them time to safely abandon the vessel, the owners would have suffered a material loss due to the destruction. They would also, no doubt, have been distressed to lose their investment. The actual event, however, is called the worst maritime disaster in U.S. history. Not due to the loss of the boat and cargo, but rather to the extensive death toll involving almost half of those on board as well as injuries to the majority of the survivors. The tragedy was human, made all the more grievous by the second word we need to consider.

 

The iconic image of the Sultana, stopped in Helena, AR. The superimposed faces in the background are the work of artist James Hance.

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