Eighty-one years after Their Eyes Were Watching God debuted, a new work by Zora Neale Hurston will appear on bookshelves. In 2018, publisher HarperCollins will release Hurston’s account of the last-known survivor of the American holocaust known as the U.S. slave trade.
In 1931, Hurston spent three months in Alabama interviewing Cudjo Lewis, who came to the country on a “black cargo” vessel. Barracoon tells Lewis’ story, including that of his capture and being held in a “barracoon”—a small cage used to hold enslaved persons—as well as his voyage with 109 other slaves aboard the Clotilda, the last recorded U.S. slave ship.
The Clotilda’s kidnapping of Lewis and his other compatriots was actually illegal. By 1860, the date of Lewis’ capture, the forced importation of humans had been banned in the U.S. for more than half a century. But a group of wealthy men from Mobile, Ala., decided to see if they could evade the law and bring in a shipload of slaves. They succeeded, and the human cargo was divided up among the Clotilda’s “investors.”
Cudjo Lewis spent five years as the property of Timothy Meaher, a wealthy shipbuilder, until the Civil War ended. After he was emancipated, Lewis, along with other former slaves from his ship, demanded reparations. When they were denied, he and a group of slaves put their money together and founded the African-centered town of Africatown, located a few miles from Mobile, Ala.
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By the time Hurston had visited Africatown for the first time, in 1927, Lewis was the last survivor of the Clotilda.
Barracoon will be released May 5, 2018, according to HarperCollins.