Amistad Press recent published a book written by Zora Neale Hurston in 1931. The book – Barracoon: The Story of the Last Black Cargo – had not been published previously due to the heavily accented dialogue that makes it difficult to read for many people. The manuscript had been tucked away in the archives at Howard University for several decades.
Barracoon tells the story of Cudjo Lewis, a man in his 80s, who was widely believed to be the last African man alive who had been kidnapped from his village, shackled as cargo onto a ship and forced into slavery in America. Lewis was captured in his village of Takkoi in what is now the African nation of Benin, during a raid carried out by the King of Dahomey. After a three-day march to the coast he was sold to slave traders who shipped him to Mobile, Alabama. Lewis worked hauling freight on the Alabama River for five years until he was freed after the Civil War.
Randal Jelks, professor of African and African-American studies and American studies at the University of Kansas notes that “it was difficult for her to tell his story as a story of American slavery and what Lewis’ West African culture meant to him on his own terms.” Professor Jelks adds that it was “the publishing industry who dictated what kind of ‘Black story’ could be marketed to an American readership.”
Hurston died in obscurity in 1960. But since that time she has become an icon of the Harlem Renaissance era.
A video on Cudjo Lewis may be viewed below.