The Story of the Last "Black Cargo"

Book - 20180
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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
Publisher: New York : Amistad Press, 20180
ISBN: 9780062748201
Branch Call Number: 306.362 Hurs
Characteristics: xxviii, 171 pages : 1 illustration ; 22 cm
Additional Contributors: Plant, Deborah G. 1956-
Walker, Alice 1944-


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Oct 02, 2019

It blows my mind that this wasn't published when the author was alive. It saddens my heart greatly that it wasn't published in the subject's lifetime. To have the narrative of a former slave from the last slave ship to America is important. To have that narrative from a man that was nineteen when he was transported to America from Africa and was still a young man when he was freed after 5-1/2 years as a slave is unique. Middle Passage accounts from a slave's point-of-view are rare.

A publisher was willing to publish Hurston's book but only if she edited out the dialect. She refused and after you read his story, you'll understand why. You can hear his voice from near a century ago. That would have been lost if she had done what the publisher wanted. I'm glad he didn't have one more thing taken from him. I felt a great sense of duty to bear witness to this man's life, to give him my full attention. I found myself wanting to, needing to, read the subjects words aloud because reading them in silence didn't seem like enough.

Hurston interviewed Oluale Kossola (Cudjo Lewis) in the late 1920s at his windowless home in Alabama. The thing that struck me were many including the circumstances of his horrifying capture, transport, enslavement, and his life as a former slave. But the thing that really got to me was how much he wanted to go back home to Africa. He asked the man that transported him to America to take him back home to Africa and was treated as crazy for even asking since, in his former master's eyes, he practically stole his property by not being his slave any longer. He decided to save money to get back to Africa but soon realized being exploited wasn't such a great moneymaker, so he decided to stay (or rather conceded). He along with others founded their own town based on life in Africa. Imagine that, an African town with only those originally from Africa in Alabama.

Kossola lived through his birth as a free man in West Africa in 1841 to experiencing slavery in a strange land and then freedom with the baked-in prejudice of Jim Crow's disingenuous but constitutionally protected "separate but equal" nonsense to seeing the dawn of a new century that included a world war and the Great Depression.

Throughout the rest of his life he was lonely for his people. He hoped Hurston's book would reach those that had known him in Africa so they would know what happened to him. That separation haunted him. It haunts me too.

It was horrific to hear the mayhem that ensued in the predawn raid when Kossola's townspeople awoke to female warriors slaughtering them. It gets worse from there with decapitated heads of family and friends banging about the belts of the warriors as Kassola and others that survived the massacre were bound together on their march to a fate they couldn't possibly imagine.

The part where Kossola tries to navigate freedom is important to spend time with. Really try to imagine being a slave one day and the next being free in a strange hostile land. Slave holders had zero obligation to help their former slaves acclimate to freedom. Imagine being told to go free and you have no money or connections or family or work history except as a slave. You are looked at as stolen property or a traitor. The economy sucks and no one wants you unless you work super cheap and even then no one trusts you or truly values you as a human being as much as they valued you as a thing. Imagine how you would navigate that terrain. Add to that a legal system that doesn't have your back and people that want you to go back to Africa or into the new plantation called the penitentiary. Everything you ever had and everyone you ever knew growing up is dead or long gone and the only people you can maybe trust are in the same boat as you. How do you start your new life?

Kossola figures it out. He helps found a town, marries, and has children. But the tragedy continues. It's just beyond comprehension what this gentle soul endured.

Oct 01, 2019

Zora Neale Hurston was both an anthropologist and a fiction writer of short stories at the time she wrote "Barracoon," her first book length nonfiction work. No publisher would touch it in her lifetime, mostly because she wrote it in dialect. In the 1920s, Kussola, to use the African name she calls him, was the last person to remember his life in Africa, what it was like to be captured by another tribe for the purposes of being sold as a slave, the Middle Passage, slavery, and "freedom." Hurston spent three months interviewing him, getting to know him as a person, helping him when he asked for help, leaving him alone when he told her to leave him with his pain. However painful his life, this is a story all Americans of all races need to read. While I've read her famous "Their Eyes were Watching God" more than once, I had no idea this book existed until I came across it in the bibliography for another book and knew I needed to read it. He was one of the last group stolen long after the slave trade was declared illegal in the US. Recently I read in an archaeology magazine about the boat that brought him having been found burned and scuttled in a river near Mobile. This book personalizes everything that was terrible about the slave trade, and helps explain why race is still a problem in the US today.

STPL_JessH Sep 13, 2019

This is the touching and troubling story of Oluale Kossula (referred to throughout the text as Cudjo Lewis) transcribed aurally by Zora Neale Hurston and published posthumously. I give the sections by Hurston 5 out of 5 stars. Cudjo's story is well-presented with compassion, attention, and authenticity and I am grateful that current generations can bear witness to his life in his own words.
I give the introduction 2 out of 5 and therefore the book itself comes in at about 3 out of 5 stars because the introduction frames the entire text. I have no idea why Plant spent so many pages attempting to defend Hurston's initial plagiarism regarding an article about Cudjo. I would have respected Plant more had she just been honest and said something like "there is always a risk when publishing a posthumous work. We can only access what is on the page and do not have insight into the author's true intentions." Or "Hurston plagiarized once and not again throughout her successful career." Though Plant claims the chapter is not written with an apologist agenda, the whole tone of the introduction is defensive.
If only this book could have been published by Hurston as originally intended. While I am glad that Plant brought the text to a wide and contemporary audience, her missteps as editor really affected my reading of this text. I highly recommend people focus on Cudjo's words and take Plant's with a grain of salt.

Jun 28, 2019

When I first read a book by Zora Neale Hurston, I didn't stop until I had read everything she had published. This was in the 90's, and I was naively amazed that I had not read her though I was an English major. She has always been controversial, as she predicted that integration of white and black would damage the culture of people of African descent, so for decades she did not become part of the black writers that everyone read. Alice Walker led a revival of studies of Hurston, and that's ultimately how many heard of her. Hurston wrote both fiction (Literature) and non-fiction (Anthropology). Many of her books are now standard reading in college courses. However, one of her books, "Barracoon, the Story of the Last Black Cargo", was not published until 2018. Using personal visits, she gathered the story of a man who was on the last boat of enslaved people coming to America. H story is written in dialect. Hurston's command of writing in dialect is one of the best in literary history, matching the skills of writers like Walter Scott (who wrote of course not in African-American dialects bit n a variety of Scottish dialects). Why was this, Huston's first book, not published until now? She is a courageous and consequently controversial writer. Cudjo's narrative includes the times before and during his capture by other African nations. That narrative's intense imagery, with skull thrones and extreme cruelties, has had little published first person narrative. The history this book described ha had little previous voices from those enslaved. The tale carries through to America enslavement, eventual freedom from slavery, and its aftermath in the South. The editing, forward, introduction, afterword, and notes are clear and very helpful. They explore more controversies than those I mentioned. This book is an important document for those interested in race relations in America, which means those interested in the real history of America.

Jun 17, 2019

Kossola notes that when the African Americans call them ignorant, the Africans build a school because then the county has to send them a teacher. He says, “We Afficky men doan wait lak de other colored people till de white folks a gittee ready to build us a school.” It was educational for me to read how an African man perceived differences in the behaviors of former slaves. According to Kossola, African Americans were quick to name call and laugh at Kossola and his group.

I recommend Barracoon, and not just if you’re a hard-core Hurston fan. The fact that Barracoon was finally published set Zora Neale Hurston fans into a tizzy.

Mar 30, 2019

Heartbreaking story of the last living slave who could remember his life in Africa. It is short, but take your time reading it. It is easy to skim over important details.

Jan 27, 2019

This is one man's story; I understand this. I wish there was a followup that focused on his decendents (grandchild). How are they honoring his legacy?
I, firstly, wish that his dream of repatriation had manifested. It just seems like his soul was progressively crushed, even in his supposed 'freedom'. He suffered nothing but loss in his life. I honor his resilience and not giving over totally to American culture: apparent in his speech.

JCLS_Ashland_Kristin Jan 20, 2019

Powerful and Important. So grateful Ms. Hurston has the forethought to compile this history....even if it’s taken this long for it to be published.

Dec 04, 2018

Its awkward to comment on the book, since its written in a way that transcribes the manner of speech of Kossula (Cudjo Lewis) to indicate his accent, but it him sound like he was retarded. The table of contents is a bit misleading for the chapter relating his enslavement, sale, and transportation is labelled 'barracoon' and his early experiences in America is labelled as 'slavery'. There was relatively little about his life and society prior to his enslavement. Navigating the notes was a little awkward because the edges of the pages are not flat and there is so much back matter. The appendix was very interesting.

Nov 21, 2018

It felt like I was reading a "missing link" account as Hurston interviewed a former slave in 1927, who was old enough to remember his life in Africa before being captured as a teenager and sold to slave traders, on the very last slave ship to the USA. I am so grateful that Hurston refused the publisher's demand in the 1930s to re-write the dialect into current English. The result is that we, 90 years later, are able to "hear" the anguish in the authentic voice of a former slave. What a prize account this is.
The slave, Cudjo Lewis, tells his story his own way, despite Hurston wanting to set the direction with her questions. Such a heart-breaking story he tells, and so important for all to know.

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Mar 24, 2019

"My eyes Dr stop crying' but Dr tears runner down inside me all de time."

Mar 21, 2019

That though the heart is breaking, happiness can exist in a moment, also. And because the moment in which we live is all the time there really is, we can keep going. It may be true, and often is, that every person we hold dear is taken from us. Still. From moment to moment, we watch our beans and our watermelon grow. We plant. We hoe. We harvest. We share with neighbors.


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