Barracoon: The Story of the Last "Black Cargo"
by Zora Neale Hurston

Published: 2018-05-08
Hardcover : 208 pages
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New York Times Bestseller • Amazon's Best History Book of the Year 201 • TIME Magazine’s Best Nonfiction Book of 2018 • New York Public Library’s Best Book of 2018 • NPR’s Book Concierge Best Book of 2018 • Economist Book of the Year • SELF.com’s Best Books ...

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New York Times Bestseller • Amazon's Best History Book of the Year 201 • TIME Magazine’s Best Nonfiction Book of 2018 • New York Public Library’s Best Book of 2018 • NPR’s Book Concierge Best Book of 2018 • Economist Book of the Year • SELF.com’s Best Books of 2018 • Audible’s Best of the Year • BookRiot’s Best Audio Books of 2018 • The Atlantic’s Books Briefing: History, Reconsidered • Atlanta Journal Constitution, Best Southern Books 2018  • The Christian Science Monitor’s Best Books 2018 • Barnes & Noble’s Best Books of the Year

“A profound impact on Hurston’s literary legacy.”—New York Times

“One of the greatest writers of our time.”—Toni Morrison

“Zora Neale Hurston’s genius has once again produced a Maestrapiece.”—Alice Walker

A major literary event: a newly published work from the author of the American classic Their Eyes Were Watching God, with a foreword from Pulitzer Prize-winning author Alice Walker, brilliantly illuminates the horror and injustices of slavery as it tells the true story of one of the last-known survivors of the Atlantic slave trade—abducted from Africa on the last "Black Cargo" ship to arrive in the United States.

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.

Based on those interviews, featuring Cudjo’s unique vernacular, and written from Hurston’s perspective with the compassion and singular style that have made her one of the preeminent American authors of the twentieth-century, Barracoon masterfully illustrates the tragedy of slavery and of one life forever defined by it. Offering insight into the pernicious legacy that continues to haunt us all, black and white, this poignant and powerful work is an invaluable contribution to our shared history and culture.

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Discussion Questions

Cudjo says to Zora Neale Hurston, “My name, is not Cudjo Lewis. It Kossula.” Why does it mean so much to Kossula to make sure that Hurston knew his true name?

Cudjo Lewis expressed an affinity for his cultural traditions. What are three African traditions or customs that Cudjo continues in America? Cudjo was considered a poet and griot. What are the attributes of a griot and do we see these elements in Cudjo’s narrative? In describing life in his African village, Cudjo talks about the king. What describes the political and societal structures of Cudjo’s village? What matters are overseen by the king, and how does that affect the community? How does the political and social structure in Africatown compare with that of Cudjo’s village?

What initiations did Cudjo undergo in Africa?

Describe the Dahomian attack on Cudjo’s village, Bantè. How did the violence affect Cudjo? What was the outcome for Cudjo and his village?

What is Cudjo’s experience in the barracoon? How were people selected for transport?

What was Cudjo’s experience aboard the Clotilda? How did his experience differ from that of the Americans aboard the ship?

What was the nature of the relationship between Captain William “Bill” Foster and Cudjo and between Timothy Meaher and Cudjo? How would you describe the nature of the relationship between Foster and Meaher?

How do the enslaved Africans learn about their freedom? How do they react to the news?

What characterizes the relationship between Africatown residents and Africans?

One of the first things Cudjo Lewis and his fellow compatriots do after emancipation is make homes for themselves. How do they go about acquiring land and building houses? What about their process allows them to create their own neighborhood and community?

Cudjo talks about his marriage to Seely. How do they get married? What is Cudjo’s attitude about marriage and marriage license?

What hardships does Cudjo’s family face? How does Cudjo handle these situations?

There are two distinct moments Cudjo describes where he learns about the law: when one of his sons is shot and killed by a sheriff ’s deputy and when his wagon is hit by a train. What lessons about the law does he learn from these experiences?

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by Erica M. (see profile) 11/06/19

by CC A. (see profile) 01/13/19

This was a very interesting read. I learned a lot that I didnâ??t already know about slavery and African slave culture versus American born slave culture. The descriptions of life in Africa were also... (read more)

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