The Story of the Last “Black Cargo”

December’s Equity Resource is recommended by Tangletown Neighborhood Association Equity Committee member Ellen Block:

Barracoon: The Story of the Last ‘Black Cargo,’ written by Zora Neale Hurston, is the amazing story of Kossola “Cudjo” Lewis, the last living survivor of the middle passage. Lewis was brought to Alabama on the last slave ship, the Clotilda, which sailed illegally under cover of night into Mobile Bay 53 years after the importation of slaves was made illegal by Congress. Hurston, the American writer, anthropologist, and filmmaker, famous for her book Their Eyes Were Watching God, interviewed Cudjo in 1927 in his home in Africatown, Alabama (now known as Plateau). Barracoon is striking for a number of reasons. First, it was not published during Hurston’s lifetime (it only came out in 2018) because the publishers wanted Huston to sanitize Cudjo’s language for a broader audience. Hurston insisted on preserving Cudjo’s dialect, recognizing the important connection between his way of expressing himself and his way of viewing the world, as well as the importance of historically preserving the dialect of enslaved people born in Africa. It is also significant because Hurston privileges Lewis’ own words and stories, and he tells the story of his life growing up in Benin, his enslavement and experience on the middle passage, his time as a slave, his emancipation, and his life in Alabama after the end of slavery. I highly recommend the audio version of this book, narrated by Robin Miles, as it captures Lewis’ dialect and Hurston’s voice beautifully. It is available in paper or audiobook through the Hennepin County Library or wherever you buy your books.”