I've had Barracoon: The Story of the Last "Black Cargo" by Zora Neale Hurston on my radar for quite sometime. I finally decided to listen to the unabridged audio version of Barracoon: The Story of the Last "Black Cargo" by Zora Neale Hurston and narrated by Robin Miles for Black History Month.
I am so happy that I finally listened to Barracoon as this work of nonfiction is of historical significance and an engaging listen. While listening to Barracoon, I discovered that Zora Neale Hurston was also an anthropologist as well as the popular writer we know today. She interviewed Cudjo Lewis, one of the last known survivors of the Atlantic slave trade from Africa, in 1927 and again in 1931.
Barracoon: The Story of the Last "Black Cargo" by Zora Neale Hurston is a short listen at 3 hours, 50 minutes and is extremely well narrated by Robin Miles. It was edited by Deborah G. Plant, which is where we learn a lot of background information about Zora Neale Hurston and Barracoon.
Barracoon: The Story of the Last "Black Cargo" by Zora Neale Hurston was written last century, but wasn't published until 2018 as Hurston was unable to find a publisher willing to accept the manuscript as she wrote it, which used Cudjo Lewis's own particular 'vernacular' throughout.
I am happy that Barracoon was published in its original format. It was also interesting to learn that it became illegal to import slaves from Africa to America in the early 1800s. YET, there were still ships illegally bringing over slaves from Africa to America for decades! It so happened that Cudjo Lewis was brought over on one such ship named the Clotilda. Cudjo Lewis remembers his life in Africa, his capture, his voyage to America, and life afterwards in America as a slave and then a free man. We learn about all of this and more in great detail in Barracoon. I also liked the appendix which shares some traditional African games and stories/folktales.
Below is the summary for Barracoon: The Story of the Last "Black Cargo" by Zora Neale Hurston from the Chirp website:
A major literary event: a never-before-published work from the author of the American classic Their Eyes Were Watching God that brilliantly illuminates the horror and injustices of slavery as it tells the true story of one of the last known survivors of the Atlantic slave trade—abducted from Africa on the last “Black Cargo” ship to arrive in the United States.
In 1927, Zora Neale Hurston went to Plateau, Alabama, just outside Mobile, to interview eighty-six-year-old Cudjo Lewis. Of the millions of men, women, and children transported from Africa to America as slaves, Cudjo was then the only person alive to tell the story of this integral part of the nation’s history. Hurston was there to record Cudjo’s firsthand account of the raid that led to his capture and bondage fifty years after the Atlantic slave trade was outlawed in the United States.
In 1931, Hurston returned to Plateau, the African-centric community three miles from Mobile founded by Cudjo and other former slaves from his ship. Spending more than three months there, she talked in depth with Cudjo about the details of his life. During those weeks, the young writer and the elderly formerly enslaved man ate peaches and watermelon that grew in the backyard and talked about Cudjo’s past—memories from his childhood in Africa, the horrors of being captured and held in a barracoon for selection by American slavers, the harrowing experience of the Middle Passage packed with more than 100 other souls aboard the Clotilda, and the years he spent in slavery until the end of the Civil War.
Based on those interviews, featuring Cudjo’s unique vernacular, and written from Hurston’s perspective with the compassion and singular style that have made her one of the preeminent American authors of the twentieth-century, Barracoon brilliantly illuminates the tragedy of slavery and of one life forever defined by it. Offering insight into the pernicious legacy that continues to haunt us all, black and white, this poignant and powerful work is an invaluable contribution to our shared history and culture.
I am giving Barracoon: The Story of the Last "Black Cargo" by Zora Neale Hurston a rating of 4 stars out of 5 stars.
Until my next post, happy reading!!
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