In 'Barracoon,' America's Last Slave Tells His Story Of Survival

Dec 26, 2018

Zora Neale Hurston, the celebrated Harlem Renaissance writer and anthropologist, has a new bestseller out nearly 60 years after her death. She wrote "Barracoon: The Story of The Last 'Black Cargo'" almost a century ago. It’s the nonfiction story of Oluale Kossola, the last survivor of the African slave trade in the United States. Kossola was sold into slavery and taken from West Africa when he was 19.

Kossola came to the U.S. on the Clotilda, the last ship to illegally transport slaves to America. The slave trade had been outlawed decades prior. In "Barracoon," he tells Hurston about his journey to the U.S. and his life as a slave, and later a free man, in Alabama. Kossola, who in Alabama was known as Cudjo Lewis, is believed to be the last survivor of the slave trade.

Deborah Plant edited "Barracoon." She is a scholar of African-American literature and Africana studies scholar and literary critic. Hurston's life and works are Plant's research focus. She spoke with On Second Thought about why it took so long for "Barracoon" to be published, and what Kossola's story can teach us about the reality of slavery, which she called an "overgeneralized phenomenon."