Title: Barracoon: The Story of the Last “Black Cargo”
Author: Zora Neale Hurston
Bookstore: BookCon 2018
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.
Hurston has a unique writing style, she writes in the way the person speaks which is interesting and makes it more personal. In the book, you notice that Cudjo, real name Oluale Kossola, has an accent and doesn’t speak perfect English and that is exactly how Hurston writes it. This is the first book I read by Hurston (I know, I am late) and it took me some time to be able to get used to the way it was written, even to the point that I had to read it out loud to myself. The book is only 210 pages, so it is a small book, but the writing style made it a little difficult for me to get through. Cudjo’s story is very important and I am glad that it was published after so many years.
As I was reading about Cudjo story, I can see why he always keep saying that he wanted to go back to Africa. That is where he was born, where his family was, where his tribe was and all he knew. To come to America against his will and work for a family was not want he wanted in life. He takes you through this time as a slave to the moment where all slaves were freed and able to start their own life. Cudjo talks about how he met his wife and started a family. They went through so much; racism, tragedies and struggles in living in America during that time period.
Hurston writes about the friendship that was developed between them during her time with Cudjo. They would get peaches and watermelon from Cudjo’s backyard to have during the interviews and would take him into town when he told her he needed to. Cudjo’s story is very important for history, this is a detailed life event that happened and it needed to be told and I am glad it did. In the book, Cudjo always kept saying that he wanted to go back to Africa, to his tribe. In a photo that Hurston took, Cudjo mentions he wants to take off his shoes and stand in a specific place because he wants to make it seem like he is back in Africa. Cudjo was a brave and strong man. He endured so much in life, when he got older, he was able to rest and attend to his garden that he loved so much and play with his great-granddaughters.
This is a story that every person should read; adults, teenagers, and children. It is heartbreaking and touching, but so important to read about.