“I bow my head in my hands, den I lift it up again”

Books on Tap met August 1st at Champion Brewing Company to discuss Zora Neale Hurston’s Barracoon: The Story of the Last “Black Cargo.”  

barracoon.jpg

The story of Cudjo Lewis (born Oluale Kossola) was published in 2018, eight decades after Hurston spent several months in Plateau, Alabama interviewing Lewis as part of her anthropological work under the patronage of Charlotte Mason.

Published in dialect, the book details Cudjo’s life story: how he was captured and came to Alabama from West Africa on the ship Clotilda then freed due to the Civil War after 5 years and 6 months as a slave.  He went on to help establish Africatown, marry, and have 6 children. He gained some celebrity as the last living survivor of the Clotilda.

The use of dialect, which Hurston insisted on keeping, is one reason why it took so long to publish the book.  Some readers found the dialect challenging, but also felt it lent to the authenticity of the story.

The group discussed the resurgence of Hurston’s work. After some of her supporters and peers turned against her, she was buried in an unmarked grave.  In the late 1970’s, Alice Walker spearheaded the re-discovery of Hurston’s work, purchased a headstone for her unmarked grave and wrote the foreword for “Barracoon”.

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About JMRL Central Reference

Librarians in the reference department at the Central Library of JMRL.

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