With her best-known novel 1937’s Their Eyes Were Watching God, Zora Neale Hurston was one of the most popular African-American writers of her day. Sadly, her fortunes receded and she died in obscurity and poverty in 1960 aged 69. But another great African-American author, Alice Walker, restored her reputation in the 1970s. And an outstanding work of Hurston’s hidden from view for some 90 years has just been posthumously published.
This newly published work is based on research Hurston did in Alabama in 1927 and 1928 and is titled Barracoon – The Story of the Last Black Cargo. A barracoon was a pen where captive Africans were caged before they were shipped across the Atlantic to a life of slavery. Hurston’s book is built on interviews she undertook with a former slave, Cudjoe Lewis.
We’ll return to the extraordinary life story of Lewis shortly, but first let’s explore the entirely different but in its way equally striking life of Hurston. Zora Neale Hurston was born in 1891 in Notasulga, Alabama, the sixth of eight siblings. All four of her grandparents had been slaves.