In 1931, Zora Neale Hurston sought to publish the story of Cudjo Lewis, the final slave-ship survivor in the United States. His original name was Kossula.
Kossula had been captured at age 19 in an area now known as the country Benin, by warriors from the neighboring Dahomian tribe, and marched to a stockade, or barracoon, on the West African coast. There, he and some 120 others were purchased and herded onto the Clotilda, captained by William Foster and commissioned by three Alabama brothers to make the 1860 voyage. Kossula survived the Middle Passage, and was smuggled into Mobile, Alabama in the night. The international slave trade had been illegal in the United States for over fifty years. Kossula worked as a slave at docks on the Alabama River until 1865, and the end of the American Civil War.
After he was freed, Kossula lived for seventy years. He was interviewed by Hurston (a trained anthropologist) in 1930, who recorded his words in his dialect. But no one would publish the book she wrote with his story. One publisher was interested, but only if Hurston edited his dialect. She refused. His story was left in Howard University’s vault, forgotten. Now Kossula’s words are being published for the first time.