[A Thought] Barracoon: Beyond the Book

by: Tania Lasenburg

The four men responsible for this last deal in human flesh, before the surrender of Lee at Appomattox should end the 364 years of Western slave trading, were the three Meaher brothers and one Captain [William “Bill”] Foster. Jim, Tim, and Burns Meaher were natives of Maine. They had a mill and shipyard on the Alabama River at the mouth of Chickasabogue Creek (now called Three-Mile Creek) –Zora Neale Hurston, Barracoon: The Story of the Last “Black Cargo”

If you haven’t heard by now, Zora Neale Hurston, the author of Their Eyes Were Watching God, the short-lived professor at North Carolina Central University and most importantly, one of the literature leaders of the Harlem Renaissance, wrote a book about the survivor of the last slave ship brought to the United States. This book was recently discovered and it has now been published.

Within this current political and civil turmoil, this book, Barracoon: The Story of the Last “Black Cargo”, couldn’t have come at a better time. Even if you do not have the intention to read it, what this publication has done is bring attention to Africatown, Alabama.

Here are the facts:
•    Located near Mobile, Alabama (Source).
•    The last slave ship landed in 1860; 52 years after the international slave trade was made illegal. (Source)
•    Once had 10,000 residents is now, as of 2015, down to 3,000 (Source).
•    Africatown was a successful community run by Africans until the business district was bulldozed for a highway and integration (some residents wanted to have a more American lifestyle and left the town). (Source)
•    The residents of Africatown has a pending lawsuit stating that International Paper released highly toxic compounds that were shown to be directly linked to cancer (Source).

But why is Africatown important? Because it’s our legacy. Zora Neale Hurston felt this story needed to be told for future and current generations. At the time that this novel was written, Cudjo Lewis, was still alive, taking care of the community and his family after he was freed. Within this community, their African roots were never forgotten and it was part of their everyday life even with the knowledge that they could not go back.

As African- Americans, we are all connected in some form of way. We do not have to be blood-related in order to be connected. Our different ancestors could have been on the same boat and that connection alone is why we, as a community, should invest in Africatown.
That’s right invest. Spend your dollar to fix up the community that Alabama wishes was forgotten. For all the genealogy or DNA testing that has been on a rise, there is a direct line, a direct starting point in which people are still living there. Which means you can talk to people about the past, you can talk to direct descendants and find out information that can lead you in a better direction. But most importantly: This. Is. Our. History. As. Americans. Why not make sure it’s preserved? Why not help clean it up? Why not help with legal fees to clean and take care of the environment?

Barracoon: The Story of the Last “Black Cargo” is a must read and a must buy. Although it reads like a fiction novel, and there may be times where you will need to re-read what Cudjo has said the historical information you see and experience when reading about the last cargo and Africatown is unbelievable in the sense that you are seeing an almost a first-hand account of how some of our ancestors have lived. Not everyone has or had the opportunity to know their family history but this book . . . inspires you to want to know more.