Title: Barracoon: The Story of the Last “Black” Cargo
Author: Zora Neale Hurston
Genre: Adult Non-Fiction/Biography/Cultural
Release Date: May 8th 2018 from Harper Audio
Format: Library Audio book
Narrator: Robin Miles
Listening Time: 3 hours, 50 mins
Goodreads Synopsis: 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.
Offering insight into the pernicious legacy that continues to haunt us all, black and white, this work is an invaluable contribution to our shared history and culture.
Recently, I was shelving an adult non-fiction cart at the library that I work at and I saw this book on the shelf. I looked at it and was instantly intrigued by the cover. So when the audio book was available on the Overdrive app, I grabbed it and started listening. This is a story that Hurston wrote many years ago but it was only published in 2018, after sitting in an archives at Howard University for many years. Hurston interviewed who was believed, at that time, to be the last Black slave who came on the Clotilda, the last slave ship. But now, we know that two others outlived Cudjo who were also on that same ship. The introduction and foreword also talk about how Hurston came to interview Cudjo, the possible plagarism that Hurston did and also more about where Cudjo came from.
I am happy that this book FINALLY saw the light of day when it came out a couple years ago. This is a rare story, in which a man still remembers the Africa he came from and still believed in his religion and values from his homeland. I haven’t heard any stories besides Cudjo Lewis’s in which other slaves recounted their homeland. (If there are others like Cudjo’s story out there, I want to read them) But I loved that Hurston take such care in writing down Cudjo’s story. She kept the story written in dialect to keep his voice which was the best decision. The fact that publishers back then wanted the dialect removed is insane to me! I loved listening to Robin Miles narrate Cudjo’s dialect. I was transported back to when Hurston interviewed Cudjo, as they ate peaches and sat in his house as he recounted his life. But I was also transported back to his Africa and it was both fascinating and also horrifying.
What shocked me the most was how Cudjo came to be transported on the Clotilda as a slave. White slave traders didn’t go to Africa and kidnap people like Cujdo. Instead, Cudjo’s tribe was slaughtered by the women warriors of a neighboring tribe. It was that African tribe who took Cudjo and others and sold them to the white people! This African tribe who kept fueling the slave trade, plus the white slave trader who “bet” that he could get more slaves despite it being illegal sent the Clotilda to Africa royally pissed me off. I cannot believe the NERVE this man had to be so arrogant and illegally bring more slaves. Hearing Cudjo recount his story on how that happened, seeing heads strapped to the waists of the women warriors, fires destroying his village and the different, horrifying ways of how his people were killed made me stop whatever I was doing and just listen. I was glues to this story and it broke my heart to hear about a young man, training to be soldier and had his whole life ahead of him before the death of his village and slavery changed his life.
He then recalls how he was on the slave ship, his wife and children, the persecution of his family and eventually outliving his family. But there is always that longing how he yearned to go back to his homeland. Cudjo and other slaves, once they were free, created their own Africatown which is still around today. I love that even though Cudjo and others couldn’t go back home because it was so expensive, they made their own Africa town. But the other thing that blew my mind was how the story shows that Cudjo was in the “middle”, where there were Blacks that had been in America for generations, but Cudjo and those like him were still labeled as “savages” for what they remembered and practiced from their homeland. That’s crazy that people taunted and teased him and his family. You hear Cudjo’s story and he is such an intelligent man who preserved through so much and his story is so important and needed.
Since I’m not an own voices reviewer, I’m going to leave some videos down below of own voices readers who discuss the book. I think these videos capture the story so well and they also have great information that I missed. But know that even though this story broke my heart, I am glad that this book is published now and I commend Hurston so much for interviewing Cudjo and refusing to change anything about it. This is a book that NEEDS to be read in schools and colleges. I am glad that I listened to it and while it’s a hard story, these stories must be told and shared. While I do think his story was shorter than I expected and I wish there was more about his descendants, this is a book that will stick with me.
Have you read this book? If so, what did you think? Let me know your thoughts in the comments!