May 11, 2018 - Vol. 1, Issue 32
Understanding Barracoon
Above: Barracoon: The Story of the Last "Black Cargo" by Zora Neale Hurston. 1
'Portrait of Zora Neale Hurston' by Carl Van Vechten 2
Erich Jarvis
Carrie Mae Weems
In 1927, heeding the advice of anthropologist Franz Boas, Zora Neale Hurston journeyed to the community of Africatown, also known as Plateau, Alabama. There lived Cudjo Lewis, who was considered the last surviving African brought to the United States via the transatlantic slave trade. 3 Hurston’s initial attempt to interview Lewis was unsuccessful; and she was accused of plagiarism upon the publication of her article, “Cudjo’s Own Story of the Last African Slaver.” 4 Undeterred, Hurston returned to Lewis’ home a second time to attempt a more personable--and less anthropological--approach. 5 The resulting manuscript was rebuffed by publishers, as well as members of the black community, who grappled with its implications. This past Tuesday, Hurston’s work, Barracoon: The Story of the Last “Black Cargo,” was finally published by Amistad Press--over eighty years after it was first typed.

In a 2003 issue of the journal Discourse, Genevieve Sexton wrote that Hurston's manuscript demonstrated “a conflict between looking to testimony in order to access the atrocity of the past…and the simultaneous recognition that the past is interminably closed off as inaccessible and intangible.” 6 Hurston told Lewis’ story in his dialect, 7 which exacerbated the initial public aversion to the work. However, Lewis' voice is especially resonant for black archival practitioners, as it is painfully rare evidence of authentic black expression from transatlantic history.

As Alice Walker offered in her foreword to Barracoon : “This is, make no mistake, a harrowing read.” 8 Considering this description, neurobiologist Erich Jarvis spoke in his interview about his maternal family’s African ancestors, who were brought from West Africa to North Carolina. He remembered one story: “They were brought off the ship…and when they saw what was happening, about a third of the people got up and walked away from the beach, back into the water and drowned themselves, rather than be enslaved here.” Jarvis went on to underscore the importance of family lore for discovery: “It’s these kind of stories that make me realize, once you dig, you can find some things.” 9 [Erich Jarvis, THMDA 1.2.1].

Folkloric artist Carrie Mae Weems was personally inspired by the works of Hurston, from whom Weems realized “the power of the personal narrative, 10  and who informed the unique juxtaposition of photography and language that is evident in Weems’ artistic practice. 11 [Carrie Mae Weems, THMDA 1.5.4] . By all accounts, Hurston died penniless--with royalties that amounted to less than $1,000. 12 Her legacy, however, is incomparable. Her work remains as a testament to the growth of academic disciplines not limited to folklore studies, women’s studies, and African American studies.
For our subscribing institutions, check out our curated playlist of stories that accompanies the above feature. To do so, copy and paste the below URL to the tail end of your university’s specific URL for The HistoryMakers Digital Archive. For example: [Your Institution URL] + [Playlist Tail]

Playlist Tail: /stories/6;IDList=645971%2C113642%2C85140%2C208826%2C611717%2C256305%2C638797%2C659196%2C659195%2C20907;ListTitle=Understanding%20Barracoon
We Thank You PwC!!!
The archival processing team at The HistoryMakers is proud to announce that, as of this evening, we have successfully surpassed our grant goal, reaching a total of 2,687 interviews published on The HistoryMaker Digital Archive. We are especially grateful for the generosity of the PwC Charitable Foundation, as well as the outstanding lives and accomplishments of the HistoryMakers interviewees, without whom this task would have been impossible.

As a result of achieving this target, the team will take a break from processing to focus on other projects that are imperative to the continued growth and success of The HistoryMakers. Most notably, we are tasked with selecting two stories from each interview, to be featured on a new publicly accessible website that will debut later this year.

Stay tuned for more content on The HistoryMakers Digital Archive in early June, when we resume publication of new interviews.
Please share with us your stories of how you incorporate The HistoryMakers Digital Archive into your curriculum and research. We'd love to hear from you!

This week, 20 new interviews were added to The HistoryMakers Digital Archive:

Dr. Arese Carrington

Healthcare executive Dr. Arese Carrington (1958 - ) was the associate director of the AIDS Prevention Initiative Nigeria at the Harvard School of Public Health in Boston, Massachusetts.

Father Darryl F. James

Reverend Father Darryl F. James (1954 - ) headed the historic Grace Episcopal Church in Jamaica, Queens, and served as the national president of the Union of Black Episcopalians.
B. K. Fulton

Corporate executive B. K. Fulton (1966 - ) was the associate director of technology programs and policy at the National Urban League. He also served as a vice president at AOL Time Warner, Inc. and Verizon Communications, Inc.
Carol H. Williams

Advertising chief executive Carol H. Williams (1949 - ) was the founder and chief creative officer of Carol H. Williams Advertising. Prior to that, she was the first African American creative director at the Leo Burnett Company Inc.
The Honorable William E. Ward

History professor and political organizer The Honorable William E. Ward (1933 - ) was a professor and the chair of the history department at Norfolk State University. He was the first African American and longest serving mayor of Chesapeake, Virginia.
Craig Watkins

Lawyer Craig Watkins (1967 - ) was the first African American district attorney in the State of Texas, where he created the Conviction Integrity Unit of the Dallas County District Attorney’s Office.
Laurie Robinson Haden

Corporate lawyer and nonprofit executive Laurie Robinson Haden (1972 - ) was a senior vice president and assistant general counsel at the CBS Corporation, as well as the founder and CEO of Corporate Counsel Women of Color.
H. Carl McCall

Federal government official and civic leader H. Carl McCall (1935 - ) became the comptroller of New York State in 1994. He was the first African American to be elected to a statewide office in New York.
The Honorable Doris Bunte

State representative and city government appointee The Honorable Doris Bunte (1933 - ) was the first black woman to serve in the Massachusetts House of Representatives, and later directed the Boston Housing Authority.
Christopher P. Reynolds

Corporate general counsel Christopher P. Reynolds (1963 - ) was the senior vice president of corporate resources at the Toyota Motor Corporation.
James E. Payne

Lawyer James E. Payne (1968 - ) worked for the Provost Umphrey Law Firm, LLP. He also served as a Grand Sire of the Sigma Pi Phi Fraternity.
Penfield W. Tate III

State government official Penfield W. Tate III (1956 - ) founded the law firm of Tate & Tate before serving as a leader of the Colorado Democratic Party, a Colorado State Senator, and a Colorado State Representative.
Gwendolyn Quinn

Public relations chief executive Gwendolyn Quinn (1960 - ) founded GQ Media and Public Relations in 2002, where she represented singers Aretha Franklin and Chaka Khan.
Art Fennell

Broadcast journalist Art Fennell (1961 - ) was a principal anchor and managing editor for CN8 News, and served as the executive producer and anchor of CN8-TV’s Art Fennell Reports .
Robert Tutman

Photojournalist and producer Robert Tutman (1946 - ) was the first African American cameraman hired by CBS News, where he served from 1970 to 1999.
June Baldwin

Television executive June Baldwin (1950 - ) became one of the first African Americans to enter the executive ranks of the entertainment industry when she worked for NBC.

ReShonda Tate Billingsley

Author and journalist ReShonda Tate Billingsley (1969 - ) served as a reporter and news anchor in Texas and Oklahoma, and was a national bestselling author of over forty fiction, nonfiction and teen fiction books.
Ruth Campbell

Education administrator and television producer Ruth Campbell (1939 - ) was an executive producer at the Mississippi Authority for Educational Television and the deputy director of the Department of Human and Cultural Services for the City of Jackson.
Tamara Harris Robinson

Financial executive and foundation executive Tamara Harris Robinson (1967 - ) began her career in the finance sector in Hong Kong. She later became a divorce coach and an education advocate with the United Negro College Fund.
Michael Lomax

Nonprofit chief executive, county commissioner, and university president Michael Lomax (1947 - ) instituted the National Black Arts Festival in Atlanta, Georgia. He later served as president of the United Negro College Fund.
1. BANNER PHOTO: Barracoon: The Story of the last “Black Cargo” by Zora Neale Hurston. National Public Radio. Accessed May 11, 2018.
2. “Portrait of Zora Neale Hurston” by Carl Van Vechten. Van Vechten Collection, Library of Congress. Accessed May 11, 2018.
3. Genevieve Sexton, “The Last Witness: Testimony and Desire in Zora Neale Hurston’s ‘Barracoon,’” Discourse 25, no. 1/2 (Winter and Spring, 2003): 189-210.
4. Casey N. Cep, “Zora Neale Hurston’s Story of a Former Slave Finally Comes to print,” The New Yorker (May 14, 2018). Accessed May 11, 2018. .
5. Sexton, p. 190.
6. Sexton, p .191.
7. Anna Diamond, “Zora Neale Hurston’s ‘Barracoon’ Tells the Story of the Slave Trade’s Last Survivor.’, May 2, 2018. Accessed May 11, 2018. .
8. Alice Walker, forward to Barracoon: The Story of the Last “Black Cargo,” Zora Neale Hurston, ed. Deborah G. Plant (Amistad Press, 2018).
9. Erich Jarvis (The HistoryMakers A2012.041), interviewed by Larry Crowe, February 20, 2012, The HistoryMakers Digital Archive. Session 1, tape 2, story 1, Erich Jarvis talks about his family's African ancestors.
10. Carrie Mae Weems (The HistoryMakers A2014.175), interviewed by Harriette Cole, September 10, 2014, The HistoryMakers Digital Archive. Session 1, tape 5, story 4, Carrie Mae Weems describes the influence of Zora Neale Hurston on her work.
11. “Carrie Mae Weems.” Accessed May 11, 2018. .
12. Elizabeth Mehren, “The Rediscovery of Zora Neale Hurston,” The Los Angeles Times (April 7, 1991). Accessed May 11, 2018. .
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