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Barracoon: The Story of the Last Black…

Barracoon: The Story of the Last "Black Cargo" (2018)

by Zora Neale Hurston

Other authors: Deborah G. Plant (Editor), Alice Walker (Foreword)

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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Zora Neal Hurston was a pioneer, a collector and ethnographer of African-American folk heritage, and a brilliant, unique writer on her own. Her works combine the writer’s empathy and compassion with the eye of the researcher.

Barracoon is based on Hurston’s 1931 interviews with the last survivor of the last slave ship, Cudjo Lewis. His story is told on Cudjo’s native, idiomatic language, complete with phonetic transcription. Hurston also inserts herself into the story - describing their encounters, which gives an intimacy to the narrative. Cudjo’s story is interesting, ranging from describing his life in Africa, his capture, his journey, being sold to slavery, then being freed and making a life for himself in America. He achingly recalls his marriage, children, the happy life he built; then the gradual losing of his children and wife over the years. It is a moving personal story as well as a historical one. I found especially the African stories fascinating, as I did not know about that much.

Hurston herself finds disturbing information: even though she is educated and a scholar of African American heritage, she did not know that African slaves where captured and sold into slavery by other Africans. This shakes the point of view that only the white men enslave Africans and that Africa is an idealized happy place for all Africans. I personally was surprised when Cudjo described how the Africans were treated badly and taunted by American-born blacks, who would ostracize them and call them savages. The Africans, on the other hand, were born free and only suffered short slavery, and were proud: they built their own village, bought their own land, built their own church. They did not suffer much of the mental effects of slavery, unlike people born into it.

Barracoon lay unpublished for 87 years. Cudjo’s actual story is quite short: only about half the length of this book. It is preceeded by Hurston’s own introduction, verifying the historical veracity of his narrative; and is followed by an appendix containing miscellenous stories told by Cudjo. These parts are very good and deserve a five star. However, this edition contains a lengthy intro with some completely unnecessary and distracting debacles, for which I have to deduct a star, unfortunately.

I have listened to audio wonderfully narrated by Robin Miles. She did an exceptional job interpreting and delivering the phonetical transcription of Cudjo’s speech. ( )
  Gezemice | Mar 8, 2019 |
In 1927 author and anthropologist Zora Neale Hurston befriended Oluale Kossola (aka Cudjo Lewis), a former slave who had endured the Middle Passage on the Clotilda, the very last ship to make the trek from Africa to America with illegal human cargo. He was just nineteen years old at the time of his enslavement. Freed at the end of the Civil War, he settled in "Africatown" (later known as Plateau, Alabama) with other Clotilda survivors, and married and had children with his beloved wife Seely. But at the time of his friendship with Hurston, he was eighty-six years old and essentially alone in the world. He missed his homeland.

Despite the undeniable interest and pathos of the subject matter, Barracoon did not find a publisher during Hurston's lifetime. If it had included more salient facts, perhaps it could have. The main text, which only runs about 112 pages with generous margins, consists of transcripts of the author's conversations with Lewis, in dialect, without the details that would flesh the story out. For example, Lewis's voyage on the slave ship is brushed over in just a few paragraphs. I wish Hurston would have asked more questions. This book is not a fully developed memoir or anthropological case study. Recommended for historical purposes only. ( )
  akblanchard | Feb 21, 2019 |
"This is such an important book" may be something that we toss around too often, but in this case it certainly applies. In Barracoon, Zora Neale Hurston interviews Cudjo Lewis in the late 1920s. Cudjo was brought to the American South as a slave in 1860 on the last shipment of African slaves, decades after the slave trade was supposedly outlawed. Hurston gives this man a chance to tell his story in his own voice. He relates his life in Africa - he was captured at age 19 by a rival tribe - and of his trip to America. He was a slave for about 5 years, but when he gained his freedom after the Civil War, he had to try to craft a life for himself in a hostile land. It will be no surprise that he had a hard and tragic life.

I loved that Hurston writes his words in his dialect, truly giving this man a voice after a lifetime of being treated as subhuman. This is a brief book that I really think everyone should read. ( )
  japaul22 | Jan 29, 2019 |
While dialect makes this a more difficult read than some, the telling of one man's experience on one of the final slave ships deserves a reading. Ii found the contrast between the way two brothers treated their slaves enlightening. The story itself will break your heart at times. The appendix with Cudjo's stories and an African game was fascinating. ( )
  thornton37814 | Jan 27, 2019 |
Unlike a few of the previous reviewers I found the preface and introduction good preparation for Cudjo Lewis's amazing but sad life story, and enjoyed Nora Zeal Hurston's story of each meeting. Did anyone figure out the children's game called Takkoi or Attako that Cudjo described in the first part of the Appendix? I didn't, but i found the following parts of the Appendix--his telling of bible and folk stories from his homeland--fantastic. ( )
  KarenJH | Jan 25, 2019 |
Showing 1-5 of 29 (next | show all)
Brimming with observational detail from a man whose life spanned continents and eras, the story is at times devastating, but Hurston's success in bringing it to light is a marvel.
added by Shortride | editNPR, Jean Zimmerman (May 8, 2018)

» Add other authors (3 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Zora Neale Hurstonprimary authorall editionscalculated
Plant, Deborah G.Editorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Walker, AliceForewordsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Miles, RobinNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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But the inescapable fact that stuck in my craw, was: my people had sold me and the white people had bought me.... It impressed upon me the universal nature of greed and glory.
--Zora Neale Hurston, Dust Tracks on a Road
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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 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 masterfully illustrates 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.… (more)

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