Armed guards watch a slave being whipped outside a slave enclosure in this 1850 drawing.

Armed guards watch a slave being whipped outside a slave enclosure in this 1850 drawing.

Writer Zora Neale Hurston could have had her account of Oluale Kossola, believed to be the last known survivor of the Atlantic slave trade, published 87 years ago. But Hurston’s refusal to change the first-person narrative from Kossola’s dialect into traditional American English led publishers to pass on her manuscript.

Nearly nine decades later, and long after the deaths of both Kossola and Hurston, the book is out. “Barracoon,” released this week, is the story of a teenager who was stolen, shipped and sold into slavery in the U.S., who lived to see freedom and started a proud community of African-Americans that still exists today in Alabama. It’s a testament to Hurston’s journalistic and anthropological prowess — and a continuation of her powerful legacy as a writer.

The history of the slave trade and its effects are often mischaracterized and poorly taught. Can this book bring about a better understanding of the experience of people who were enslaved in America?

Guests

  • Dana Williams Professor of African American literature; chair of the English department at Howard University; @DWill5
  • Deborah G. Plant Editor, "Barracoon: The Story of the Last 'Black Cargo'"
  • Michael Ralph Professor, New York University; author "Forensics of Capital"

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