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Barracoon: The Story of the Last "Black Cargo"

3.98  ·  Rating details ·  23,313 ratings  ·  2,978 reviews
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 r ...more
Paperback, 193 pages
Published May 8th 2018 by HarperCollins Publishers (first published April 24th 2018)
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Gwen Berndt Sojdelius There’s one full length photo of Cudjo Kewis/Oluale Kossula inside the book. His portrait (face and upper body) is on the cover.
A. Resa Try the Simply E app if your library supports it.

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Will Byrnes
“…I want to ask you many things. I want to know who you are and how you came to be a slave; and to what part of Africa do you belong, and how you fared as a slave, and how you have managed as a free man?”…when he lifted his wet face again he murmured, Thankee Jesus! Somebody come ast about Cudjo! I want tellee somebody who I is, so maybe dey go to tell everybody whut Cudjo says, and how I come to Americky soil since de 1859 and never see my people no mo’. “

Barracoon - An enclosure in which bla
Petra Kiss
This book was suppressed for over 70 years because the myth of poor, exploited Africans capturing and selling their countrymen to the evil white slavers suited America with their collective guilt and wish not to offend African-Americans further. But you cannot build a house on shifting sands, and this book, by one of America's absolute top journalists of the era, provides part of the missing foundation.

I read it at more or less the same time as the very genial Michael W. Twitty's The Cooking Gen
“All these words from the seller, but not one word from the sold.”

Here, Zora Neale Hurston expresses why she wrote this book.

I have had difficulty rating this book. That the book has now finally come to be published IS of course wonderful. It should have been published decades and decades ago!

BUT, but, but… I do have some complaints with the final product.

Only half of this book is in fact Cudjo Lewis' story, his story, told by him. Zora Neale Hurston was absolutely right in demanding that his v
May 20, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I have thought long and hard on this and I do not feel like I can give this any formal review. This is a case in which I feel I would be trespassing on the author’s words, and by this I mean Kossulo’s, by superimposing any thoughts of my own. There are pieces of history we will never get back. For many of us, this is why we write: to re-imagine the stories of slavery, for instance, because we do not have words to tell us. This is a living, breathing document and should be treated as such. Just l ...more
Diane S ☔
Aug 07, 2018 rated it liked it
I chose to listen to this in audio book form, and think it was a great way to hear Cudjos story. The narrator does a fantastic job with the dislect and I felt like I was there hearing Cudjo speak his own story. The last cargo of slaves brought here, at an age, eighteen I believe, that would allow him to remember his life in Africa, and when he was taken. Heartbreaking. Was interesting hearing about his life in Africa, strange of course to my American ears, but that is what it was.

What I didn't l
Nov 16, 2018 rated it really liked it

Though the United States passed the 'Act Prohibiting Importation of Slaves in 1807', boats continued to deliver abducted Africans to America for more than 50 years. The last shipment of slaves arrived in Alabama on the ship 'Clotilda' in 1860, on the eve of the Civil War.

One of the African men on the Clotilda was Oluale Kossula, also known as Cudjo Lewis, who survived five years of slavery, became a free man, and helped found the black enclave of 'Africatown' (or 'Plateau') near Mobile, Alabama.
Dec 03, 2018 rated it really liked it
“We cry ’cause we slave. In night time we cry, we say we born and raised to be free people and now we slave. We doan know why we be bring ’way from our country to work lak dis. It strange to us."

Well, what to say.... I'm ambivalent about this one. The part Zora Neale Hurston actually wrote is beautiful and raw and touching. In 1927, she interviewed Kossula (Cudjo Lewis), then 86 years old, who was one of the last black slaves brought to America. He, along with 100-some others, was smuggled i
How to rate and review a book that has no real comparison or companion, that has been my quandary since finishing Barracoon. The rating is for the very fact of its existence, for Zora Neale Hurston’s truly wonderful and difficult work of taking down Cudjo Lewis’s story of childhood, capture, sale to slavers, and transport across the Atlantic on the last slave ship to reach the United States in 1859, and of his life after the freedom granted during the Civil War up to the 1920s.

As Kossula (Cudjo
Jun 25, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction, 2020

Why you may not like this book: Reviewing non-fiction is always strange to me and even more so when you consider the topic of this book. Imagine reviewing this like you would any other story, when as Hurston says herself, there are so few stories told from this point of view. "All these words from the seller, but not one word from the sold."

I think this will be a difficult book to get through if you are more concerned with the ease of your own reading experience; that is if you are focused on t
Heidi The Reader
Jan 28, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history, non-fiction
Zora Neale Hurston interviewed Oluale Kossola before he died in the 1930's to create this first-person narrative by one of the last people to be transported to the United States through the middle passage. It is interesting in that, among the existing records of that period in time, it is written from the perspective of someone who lived slavery rather than perpetuated it. It wasn't written with an agenda. It is a record of a history.

It is a story of a culture and a life lived far from home and
May 19, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
Cudjo Lewis's life story is important. He was brought to America illegally, at the tail end of slavery. His owners kept him and his shipmate slaves "secret" between them, using their labours for about 6 years before slavery was abolished. These people were then abandoned to a life in America, a place they did not see as home, with no way back to the home they wanted to return to.
Free life in America was hard on African-born freed slaves. They were shunned, it seems, by both White & Black Americ
Oct 02, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
"The present was too urgent to let the past intrude." -Hurston's description of how

Hurston's posthumous book is very good. Cudjo Lewis tells his story to Hurston about his life in Africa, being sold into slavery, the Middle Passage, life as a slave, and his life after obtaining his freedom. I found Lewis' story captivating, I enjoyed reading it in his own words and dialect. His constant "you unnerstand me" made his storytelling more genuine. At times I felt like I was there as he was telling Hur
Apr 13, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: from-publisher
I was deeply engrossed in this slave narrative based on Hurston's interviews with Cudjo Lewis, the presumed last living African held captive and taken to America to become a slave in 1860. While the work is heavily prefaced with discourse on Hurston's process of coming into the writing of this novel (and claims of plagiarism), Cudjo's story itself is only 94 pages. The tail end of the book contains an extensive appendix with stories, endnotes, and other items pertinent to the work.

Emotionally, I
Brown Girl Reading
Jun 26, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Slave narratives
Books about Slavery and WWII are my jam. I've read a lot about slavery. I think this maybe the reason I didn't love or enjoy Barracoon. It's definitely not what I thought it would be. The narration was great and I actually couldn't imagine reading it with the vernacular of Cudjo Lewis. Is this a great introductory read? I think so. It just wasn't for me. I found nothing new here. ...more
Jun 05, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Wow! Kossulo’s story is touching and heartbreaking. I felt as if I was sitting there with him and he was personally telling me his story. There isn't much that needs to be said, go read it. ...more
The hard task here is to remain impartial in regarding this book.  To be able to take the book as it is without considering the great historical reference and the gravitas of the writer Zora Neale Hurston.  Is it possible to separate how/what to ingest was written from the people who both wrote and were written about?  I don’t know.  The publication of Barracoon was a huge literary event. 

I do think it was a very interesting discussion of the life of a man billed as the last "Black Cargo". What
Fascinating and heartbreaking, Kossula relates his traumatic experience in his youth of his village being slaughtered and he and other youths being sent into slavery in the US. Zora Neale Hurston spends many days listening to Kossula's stories, and other days letting the man simply get on with his chores as she gained his trust.
The "interview" section of the book is prefaced by some background on Hurston's reasons for engaging Kossula, as well as Hurston's ambivalence to the academic approach. A
Clif Hostetler
Jun 29, 2018 rated it it was ok
Shelves: memoir
Barracoon is an interview record of the memories of Cudjo Lewis who is believed to be the last living person captured in Africa and brought to America on a slave ship. Lewis was captured in 1859 by Dahomey warriors, sold to American slavers, and illegally shipped to Mobile, Alabama (importing slaves to the USA had been outlawed in 1809). He was 19 years old when captured and was approximately 91 years old when interviewed in 1931.

He recounts how his village was wiped out by the Dahomey warriors
Mar 03, 2018 rated it it was amazing
His name was Kossola, but he was called Cudjo Lewis. He was the last surviving African of the last American slaver-the Clotilda

Barracoon: The Story of the Last ‘Black Cargo’ is a previously unpublished work by author Zora Neale Hurston. Although she is best known for her works of fiction, in this book, she writes ‘as a cultural anthropologist, ethnographer, and folklorist’. In 1927, Hurston spent three months in Plateau, Alabama interviewing Cudjo Lewis, 90, the last known survivor of the Atlant
Mar 20, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is an important and fascinating historical document. It is rare that we have a narrative of one who remembers and recounts the journey from Africa to America, from free person to enslaved man. So, Zora Neale Hurston writing and working as a folklorist and cultural anthropologist took interest in the story of Kossula, the last surviving individual from the last slaving ship that touched down in Alabama in 1860, the Clotilda.

Here we have the remembrances from the perspective of the captive.
Betsy Robinson
Jul 13, 2018 rated it really liked it
This is a short book—171 pages and a lot of that is front and back matter (I didn’t read much of this)—but the pain and trauma-on-top-of-trauma quotient is so high it takes a while to read in whatever spurts you can tolerate. It is the life story of Kossola, the last living slave abducted from Africa after other Africans plundered his village, brutally beheading people, to catch human beings to sell to the thriving but illegal slave trade. “Barracoon” is the word for the barracks the captives we ...more
Mariah Roze
"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
Feb 23, 2021 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: bio-or-memoir
Fascinating read! Hurston interviewed Kossula/Cudjo Lewis in 1927 when he was 86 y/o, but this bio wasn't published until 2018. Apparently there was some pushback from both publishers and the elite of the Harlem Renaissance to the book from both a substance and presentation style aspects. There is a foreword by Alice Walker and an Introduction by Deborah Plant, an African American literature and Africana studies scholar which brings more context to the history, Hurston herself and Kossula/CudjoL ...more
Apr 04, 2019 rated it it was amazing
It blows my mind that this wasn't published when the author was alive. It saddens my heart greatly that it wasn't published in the subject's lifetime. To have the narrative of a former slave from the last slave ship to America is important. To have that narrative from a man that was nineteen when he was transported to America from Africa and was still a young man when he was freed after 5-1/2 years as a slave is unique. Middle Passage accounts from a slave's point-of-view are rare.

A publisher w
Renée | Book Girl Magic
May 12, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Barracoon was my most anticipated read of 2018 and I can't believe that the time for the books release has finally arrived. This book and story was absolutely incredible and left me with so many thoughts and feelings.

In Hurston's introduction she states, "All these words from the seller, but not one word from the sold. The Kings and Captains whose words move ships. But not one word from the cargo. The thoughts of the 'black ivory', the 'coin of Africa', had no market value. Africa's ambassadors
May 24, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
There are some who’ll choose to lock-in on the accuracy of the text: how much of the story was embellished, or helped along, by Hurston? While others will focus on the parts that were “plagiarized”—choosing to center in on how legitimate the story can be if its author didn’t concern herself with the due diligence of citing whose works she chose to use.

To me, none of that mattered.

It’s irrelevant and petty to even address the how of this work, as it only stands to negate (and belittle) the impor
While Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God is a deeply loved masterpiece, many people do not know about her work collecting oral folklore and oral history. It is okay that we have the rediscovery/recovery of this manuscript to add to her important work in such areas.

Hurston visited Cudjo Lewis several times. Lewis was kidnapped from his home in West Africa and taken to the USA; this occurred after the Atlantic slave was outlawed, so he was pirated human cargo, in modern parlance he was a vict
Jul 28, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: audiobook
[3.4] The story of Cudjo Lewis as told to Zora Neale Hurston is a valuable addition to our history. I listened to it on audio and had no trouble with the dialect. His memories of Africa are particularly vibrant although he speaks little about his life as a slave. Cudjo's story is very brief - just a slender few dozen pages in the center of introductions, prefaces and appendixes. With all the buildup, it felt incomplete. ...more
Sep 12, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Zora Neale Hurston interviews the last man that was essentially sold by his country to be a slave in the U.S. "Cudjo's" story is full of loss and turmoil. The tactics that Hurston used to get Cudjo to tell his story was what made this so appealing to me. This is a piece of history that is shameful, yet it happened and to hear Cudjo tell his story puts a real voice and perspective to these unspeakable acts. ...more
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Zora Neale Hurston was an American folklorist and author. In 1925, shortly before entering Barnard College, Hurston became one of the leaders of the literary renaissance happening in Harlem, producing the short-lived literary magazine Fire!! along with Langston Hughes and Wallace Thurman. This literary movement became the center of the Harlem Renaissance.

Hurston applied her Barnard ethnographic tr

Articles featuring this book

Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “We are not makers of history. We are made by history.” So, this January, as we celebrate Martin Luther King...
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“We Afficans try raise our chillun right. When dey say we ign’nant we go together and build de school house. Den de county send us a teacher. We Afficky men doan wait lak de other colored people till de white folks gittee ready to build us a school. We build one for ourself den astee de county to send us de teacher.” 10 likes
“But the inescapable fact that stuck in my craw, was: my people had sold me and the white people had bought me. . . . It impressed upon me the universal nature of greed and glory. —Zora Neale Hurston, Dust Tracks on a Road” 9 likes
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