Sixty years after slavery was abolished, author and anthropologist Zora Neale Hurston found the last surviving prisoner of the last slave ship that brought Africans to the United States, History.com reveals.
The Their Eyes Were Watching God author conducted the interviews with Cudjoe Lewis, who was taken from the area in Africa that is now known as Benin when he was 19-years old.
Hurston planned to release the book in the early 1930’s but was shot down by publishers after she refused to change Lewis’ dialect in the manuscript. The interviews are now being released in a new book called Barracoon: The Story of the Last “Black Cargo.”
Lewis, who was originally named Kossula, was taken with about 120 other captives and was forced to board the Clotilda, the last slave ship to reach the U.S.
The international slave trade was banned in 1807, but captors skirted around the laws to bring over enslaved Africans. The ship arrived in Alabama in 1860 and Lewis told Hurston that the journey to the U.S. was extremely tough.
“We very sorry to be parted from one ’nother,” Lewis told Hurston. “We seventy days cross de water from de Affica soil, and now dey part us from one ’nother. Derefore we cry. Our grief so heavy look lak we cain stand it. I think maybe I die in my sleep when I dream about my mama.”
He also offered a first-hand account on what it was like to be on a plantation where no one spoke his language.
“Everybody lookee at us strange. We want to talk wid de udder colored folkses but dey doan know whut we say.”
You can visit History.com to read more of Lewis’ story. Barracoon: The Story of the Last “Black Cargo” comes out May 8.
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Teddy is a multimedia journalist who serves as the culture and political writer for EBONY. His work has appeared in NBC's Owned and Operated stations, as well as DNAInfo, which covered local neighborhood news in New York City. He received his Masters in Journalism from the Craig Newmark School of Journalism at CUNY in 2017.