Barracoon: The Story of the Last “Black Cargo”

Zora Neale Hurston, edited by Deborah G. Plant. Amistad, $24.99 (208p) ISBN 978-0-06-274820-1
This previously unpublished manuscript from Hurston (1891–1960) is a remarkable account of the life of Kossola, also known as Cudjo Lewis, the last survivor of the last American slave ship. Before writing Their Eyes Were Watching God, Hurston was working as an anthropologist in 1927 when she traveled to Plateau, Ala., to interview 86-year-old Kossola. Returning to Plateau in 1931 for three months, Hurston documented Kossola’s life story in this short manuscript, whose brevity disguises its richness and depth. Consisting primarily of transcriptions from their conversations, Kossola recalls his capture in Africa, the Middle Passage, his five and a half years as a slave, the Civil War, the struggles following Emancipation, and the terrors after Reconstruction (his son was killed by a deputy sheriff in 1902). Kossola was 19 years old when he was sold into slavery; thus, his accounts of folkways and traditions (e.g., the decapitated heads hanging from the belts of the Dahomian warriors who captured him) offer more graphic and personal immediacy than other surviving narratives of the slave trade, like those of Equiano or Gronniosaw, who were small children at the time of their capture. While Hurston acknowledges that her account “makes no attempt to be a scientific document, but on the whole is rather accurate,” Kossola’s story—in the vernacular of his own words—is an invaluable addition to American social, cultural, and political history. (May)
Reviewed on: 03/26/2018
Release date: 05/08/2018
Downloadable Audio - 978-0-06-274823-2
Ebook - 208 pages - 978-0-06-274822-5
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