Book Review: Barracoon: The Story of the Last "Black Cargo"

I picked up Barracoon: The Story of the Last "Black Cargo" by Zora Neale Hurston from a bookstore in an airport. I read majority of it on the flight, and came back to the appendix about a month later. I don't generally like non-fiction, but I was a fan of Hurston's Their Eyes Were Watching God and I thought the topic sounded interesting.


Barracoon: The Story of the Last "Black Cargo" follows the story of Oluale Kossola, also known as Cudjoe Lewis, who was stolen from West Africa in 1860 (53 years after the trans-Atlantic Slave Trade had been outlawed). It is one of the few historical narratives told from the point of view of the captured as most of the narratives come from the whites who did the capturing. In the novel, we learn of Kossola's childhood, the horrible attack on his village that led his people to be in captivity, his experience during the middle passage, the trauma he experienced in slavery, and finally his attempt at freedom after the Civil War.


As a descendant of slaves, the book touched me in a personal way. For instance, the fact that Kossola expresses an eagerness and happiness to be called by the name he was given in Africa as opposed to the name his slave owners gave him, speaks volumes about how slavery has affected our identity. Countless experiments have proven it to be more difficult to get a job with a name that is traditionally seen as a "black person's name" or "ghetto" than it is with a more European name. This concept of being a foreigner is further seen in Kossola's longing to go back to his home in Africa after being set free. While many of us today have no knowledge of our original tribes or homeland, we are still acutely aware that this is not home. Furthermore, we see how powerful the effects of slavery were on the mentality of the slaves as those who had been born in America and raised as slaves, wanted nothing to do with Kossola and his people. Today, we call this respectability politics. Many people choose to assimilate because they believe it will be easier than the alternative.

Overall Thoughts

The personality of Kossola shines throughout the book, and despite all he endured, he remained positive. The positivity of Kossola keeps the book from being a sad and traumatic read. I think it's a great piece of history, and the implications of the story are quite profound. I think this would be a great book for structured reading, where discussion takes place and the reader is forced to think on a deeper level about the events described.
  1. Sylviane A. Diouf. "Cudjo Lewis". Encyclopedia of Alabama. December 6, 2007

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Author Image Author Image I love reading the Word of God. With prayer God's Word reveals so much: from comfort to temperance, from perspective to affirmation. Digging into the depths of the Word, cross-referencing history, language and time differences, is a passion of mine. In March of 2015 I decided to go back through the Bible doing an in depth study on each section I read. Eventually I decided to share my journal of notes as I partake in this journey. I hope you are blessed by God and inspired to pursue a deeper relationship with Him. I love reading and learning about God, nature, and science. I am interested in how it all connects. The Creator's fingerprints are all over his creation. We can learn so much about Him and how we came to be by exploring the world around us. Join me as I explore the world and draw closer to the One who created it all.
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