Barracoon: The Story of the Last “Black Cargo” by Zora Neale Hurston (2018), 171 pages
Recently, a unique and remarkable little book was published that was actually written almost 100 years ago. It was penned by a now-famous author before almost anyone knew her name.
Barracoon: The Story of the Last “Black Cargo” is the true story of a native African and former slave, as told by the man himself to a young Zora Neale Hurston. Oluale Kossula, known during and after his enslavement as Cudjo Lewis, was captured at age 19 and smuggled into the United States on the last slave ship to come to this country, long after the slave trade was illegal. Kossula was enslaved for five and a half years before emancipation gave him his life back, albeit in a strange country far from his home. Kossula bought himself a piece of land alongside his fellow formerly-enslaved Africans in what they called Africatown, Alabama. Although Kossula never learned to read or write, Hurston diligently recreates his words and breathes life into his voice.
Although reading in Kossula’s dialect can take a little getting used to, it’s amazing to be able to hear this man’s life story told so directly and honestly. Kossula actually tells us little about his time as a slave but has poignant memories of Africa and of building a life of freedom here in the United States. Frequently his recollection of his life’s tragedies threaten to overwhelm him, and we as the reader feel his pain, even so many years removed. I enjoyed this unique window into a life that we can’t often learn about so directly.
If you like this book, you might also enjoy:
Slaves in the Family by Edward Ball
-Teresa Moulton, Public Service Leader