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 white people 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" compared to 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.
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.
- Sylviane A. Diouf. "Cudjo Lewis". Encyclopedia of Alabama. December 6, 2007
- Zora Neale Hurston. Barracoon: The Story of the Last “Black Cargo”. 2018