Book Review – Barracoon: The Story of the Last “Black Cargo”

I recently took the course a Research Seminar in Literacy, Culture, and Language Education for my doctoral program at IU Bloomington. One of the books we read was Barracoon: The Story of the Last “Black Cargo” by Zora Neale Hurston. Although Hurston was not able to see the book published during her lifetime, the Zora Neale Hurston Trust pushed forward and was able to find a publisher for the manuscript. Scholar Deborah G. Plant edited the manuscript and also addressed the situation of Hurston’s plagiarism.

The “Black Cargo” that is the center of this text is a man named Oluale Kossola who was known as known Cudjo Lewis after he was enslaved in the United States.

As a teen, Kossola was taken and placed in a barracoon, a barracks for enslaved Africans. Then he was taken to America on the Clotilda after the slave trade was banned in the U.S. Kossola was enslaved for a little over five years. Hurston was able to capture how he felt after his enslavement ended.

Cap’n Tim, you brought us from our country where we had lan’. You made us slave. Now dey make us free but we ain’ got no country and we ain’ got no lan’!

Hurston was able to gather Kossola’s perspectives and this information was found valuable which led to him being interviewed by others, and Hurston used another person’s work early in her career when she turned in a mostly plagiarism article for the Journal of Negro History about Kossula. Even though this plagiarism is the only believed occurrence by Hurston during her career, it had to be addressed when this book was published. There is an introduction that addresses the plagiarism and the fact that Hurston went back at other times to interview Kossula, and it is believed that this manuscript, unlike the article about Kossula, is her work.

Kossula’s life was rife with tragedy and heartbreak, but despite it all, he found a way to make America his home.

This book is not your typical slave narrative. However, one issue I have is the audiobook. The audiobook did not completely follow the order of the book. That was frustrating as I was reading along as I was listening. The bulk of the book is in order but the additional parts outside of the chapters were not in the same order on the audiobook as they were in the text.

For people who are looking for another perspective on slavery, this book provides that. However, the story left me wanting more. I wished there was more information provided about Kossula’s life after his time talking to Hurston and the history of Africatown that was founded by Kossula and other freed Africans after they realized they would not be able to return home to Africa.

Rating: 3.5/5

One comment

  1. Hello Educator Barnes,

    I found a ‘new space’ on the internet called ‘’
    They/We have a monthly book read; and this month it is Barracoon!

    We have weekly online discussions with Dr. Greg Carr.
    It is so insightful and informative that we typically have over 1,000 ‘Knubians’ in attendance.

    We have descendants of Kossolu contributing dialogue. We’ve had an Yorubian scholar from the U.K. interpret some of the things Kossolu says to Zora Neale Hurston. (He even tells us the correct spelling and meaning of Kossulo’s name!).

    You are absulutely right! This is not your typical slave narrative. I will go further to say that no slave narrative should ever be typical! Our Ancestors were/are speaking in code! They had to figure a way to tell the truth to us and not the White man or woman in front of them! Zora Neale Hurston had to WORK HARD to gain Kssolu’s TRUST before he would tell his REAL story.

    I’m reading the appendix at this point. I give the book a score of 4.5/5.0

    Peace & Blessings,
    “Guided by the Ancestors”

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