“The Story of the Last ‘Black Cargo’ “

This is the subtitle of a remarkable memoir written by Zora Neale Hurston, author of Their Eyes Were Watching God. The story of Cudjo, written by Hurston as a research project and published in 2018, Barracoon is a sometimes difficult but fascinating read.

As in Their Eyes Were Watching God, Hurston writes in heavy black dialect, which is frequently hard to follow; one must read and “translate” at the same time. That said, the extra effort required is definitely worth it. Based on interviews with Cudjo, taken in 1927 when Hurston went to Plateau, Alabama (outside Mobile) to interview Cudjo Lewis, who was 86 years old at the time, this book is extremely enlightening. Lewis came to this country as a slave on the last slave ship to arrive. Hurston considered Lewis to be the “Only person alive to tell this integral part of the nation’s history.” The book “sheds light on the inhumanity of slavery as it tells the true story of Cudjo, one of the last-known survivors of the Atlantic Slave Trade.”

In the introduction to this important work, Hurston states, “The African slave trade is the most dramatic chapter in the story of human existence,” and this short book really proves this statement true.

To give an example of Cudjo’s speech and dialect, which Hurston records word for word and sound for sound, here is an excerpt from one of Cudjo’s interviews with Hurston:

“We ain ignant–we jes doan know. Nobody done tell us ’bout Adam eatee the apple, we doan know de seven seals was sealee ‘gainst us. Our parents doan tell us dat. Dey doan tell us dat. No, dass a right. We jess doan know.”

Once the reader has mastered the sound of Cudjo’s dialect, the reading becomes much easier, and his fascinating, horrifying story can me told. It was well with the effort to read Hurston’s groundbreaking work.