Barracoon and Slave Old Man Approach the Trauma of Slavery With Care and Kinship

In 1927, Hurston, at the behest of a mentor, the anthropologist Franz Boas, went straight to the storyteller, traveling to Alabama to interview the 86-year-old Cudjo Lewis, the last living African brought to America aboard a slave ship. (“Barracoon” is a word for the barracks built near the coast, where the enslaved were kept until they boarded the ships.)

The book was completed almost a century ago. Publishers considered her use of dialect too alienating, and there was a worry that the blunt description of Africans selling their own into slavery was too incendiary.

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