There is nothing good, or bad, that can be said about the late Zora Neale Hurston that has not already been said. Her contribution to black literature is invaluable. Personally, I have been inspired by Zora Neale Hurston's life and her life's work. Notably, Hurston is also the author of one of my favorite books ever: Their Eyes Were Watching God.
Barracoon: The Story of the Last "Black Cargo" was actually Zora Neale Hurston's first book-length work. Hurston was a passionate anthropologist and Barracoon: The Story of the Last "Black Cargo" is one of her great anthropological works.
Barracoon: The Story of the Last "Black Cargo" records the life of Oluale Kossola, known in America as Cudjo Lewis. At 19, Kossola was stolen from his home in West Africa. He was cargo on the Clotilda, the last ship to ILLEGALLY import Africans into the United States. The transatlantic slave trade was abolished in 1807. The Clotilda delivered Cudjo, and 110 of his people, to Mobile Bay in 1860.
At the time of Hurston's interview, Kossola was the only living person who had lived in Africa, been a slave, and been emancipated. His perspective is one of the most interesting things I have read concerning American slavery.
Not Your Average Slave Story
If you read Barracoon: The Story of the Last "Black Cargo" expecting the same ole' slave narrative you will most likely be disappointed. Kossola describes his life in Africa with amazing clarity. While he openly admits that he is not royalty; his description of Takkoi strays from the primitive picture we've been given of West Africa pre-slavery.
Zora Neale Hurston received a lot of negative feedback for accurately depicting how Kossola came to be enslaved. Black people 100 years ago did not want to accept or acknowledge some Africans role in enslaving other Africans.
Dahomian warriors instigated a conflict with the king of Takkoi with the intent of raiding and enslaving his people. His narrative actually describes the violence inflicted on his people in Africa in more detail than the violence he encountered as a slave. Calm down white people. American slavery was horrifying and those horrors are well documented. Kossola's experience is not the norm: I would not recommend you trying to use it as ammunition in your next "I don't see color and racism and privilege aren't real" social media argument. Kossola was a slave for 5 and a half years before slavery was abolished in 1865. He describes the work as backbreaking, but his master was not cruel.
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The African vs The Negroe
The most interesting, and dare I say refreshing, part of Kossula's narrative is how little energy he actually gives to white people. Majority of Kossula's hurt is at the hand of people who look like him. Once he and his African counterparts are freed from slavery they immediately set out to rebuild their lives. The Africans are constantly mocked and ostracized by their fellow slaves during and after slavery. Kossula is very honest about the turmoil that division caused him over the years.
The issues showcased between the Africans and Americans are still rampant in our culture today. Unfortunately, that slave mentality is still alive and well in the minds of some black people even today.
Overall, Barracoon: The Story of the Last "Black Cargo" was an interesting read. Zora Neale Hurston did an amazing job of telling Kossola's story in his voice. I agree completely with Zora Neale Hurston's refusal to tone down dialect to be approved for publication. The dialect used in Barracoon: The Story of the Last "Black Cargo" gives it an air of authenticity that language could not have conveyed. Kossula's life is filled with pain. He loses more than one could recoup in a lifetime. There is something powerful about reading that portion of history in his voice. Kossula's narrative has also been confirmed by various outside sources.
Barracoon: The Story of the Last "Black Cargo" is a trustworthy account of West African slave trade, American slavery, and the negro struggle in the antebellum south. I would recommend Zora Neale Hurston's Barracoon: The Story of the Last "Black Cargo" to any and everyone. Grab a copy and let me know what you think.
Looking for another Black History Month read? Check out my review on Kathleen Collins' Notes From A Black Woman's Diary.