The never-before-published work covers the life of Kossola, also known as Cudjo Lewis, who in 1927 was one of the last living survivors of the Atlantic slave trade. Barracoon is phenomenal because Cudjo’s story begins when he is free and a young man living in Africa. It describes the circumstances of his capture by Dahomian warriors and his detention in a barracoon while awaiting his trade to slavers. It describes how he was smuggled out of Africa onto the last “Black Cargo” ship, the Clotilda, and tells of his journey through the Middle Passage, to his arrival in the United States on the Alabama River near Mobile, Alabama. The narrative also recounts Kossola’s five and a half years of enslavement, his freedom, and his role in the founding of Africatown, the first town established by and continuously controlled by Africans.
In 1927, famed anthropologist Franz Boaz and Carter G. Woodson, “the father of black history,” sent writer Zora Neale Hurston to Plateau, Alabama, to interview eight-six-year-old Cudjo Lewis. Of the millions of men, women, and children transported from Africa to America as “Slaves,” Cudjo Lewis was the only survivor of the Clotilda to tell the story of this essential part of our nation’s history. Boas and Woodson wanted Cudjo’s firsthand account of the raid that led to his capture and bondage, more than fifty years after the US Congress officially outlawed the Atlantic slave trade in the United States.
In 1931, Hurston returned to Plateau, the African-centric community three miles from Mobile founded by Cudjo and other survivors of the Clotilda. Spending more than three months there, she conducted in-depth interviews with Cudjo about the details of his life. During those weeks, the young writer and the elder talked about Cudjo’s memories from his enthralling 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 110 other souls aboard the Clotilda, and the years he spent in slavery until the end of the Civil War.
Based on those interviews that are rendered in Cudjo’s unique vernacular, Hurston presents Cudjo’s story with the deftness of the skilled ethnographer and the compassion and singular style that have made Zora Neale Hurston one of the most remarkable social scientists and preeminent American authors of the twentieth-century. Offering insight into the pernicious legacy that continues to haunt us all, this poignant and powerful work marks a major literary event and an invaluable contribution to our cultural history.
About the author
Zora Neale Hurston, the author of Their Eyes Were Watching God, was deemed “one of the greatest writers of our time” by Toni Morrison. With the publication of Lies and Other Tall Tales, The Skill Talks Back, and What’s the Hurry, Fox? new generations will be introduced to Hurston’s legacy. She was born in Notasulga, Alabama, in 1891, and died in 1960.
“That Zora Neale Hurston should find and befriend Cudjo Lewis, the last living man with firsthand memory of capture in Africa and captivity in Alabama, is nothing shy of a miracle. Barracoon is a testament to the enormous losses millions of men, women and children endured in both slavery and freedom—a story of urgent relevance to every American, everywhere.”
Tracy K. Smith, Pulitzer Prize winning author of Life on Mars and Wade in the Water
“Zora Neale Hurston’s genius has once again produced a Maestrapiece.”
Alice Walker, Pulitzer Prize winning author of The Color Purple
“Barracoon is a powerful, breathtakingly beautiful, and at times, heart wrenching, account of one man’s story, eloquently told in his own language. Zora Neale Hurston gives Kossola control of his narrative— a gift of freedom and humanity. It completely reinforces for me the fact that Zora Neale Hurston was both a cultural anthropologist and a truly gifted, and compassionate storyteller, who sat in the sometimes painful silence with Kossola and the depth and breadth of memory as a slave. Such is a narrative filled with emotions and histories bursting at the intricately woven seams.”
Nicole Dennis-Benn, author of Here Comes the Sun
“A searing reminder of how recently American slavery ended, and the depth of the pain it caused”
“A deeply affecting record of an extraordinary life.”
“Barracoon and its long path to print is a testament to Zora’s singular vision amid so many competing pressures that continue to put us at war with ourselves.”