Dr. Deborah Plant on Zora Neale Hurston’s Barracoon: The Story of the Last “Black Cargo”

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This week on The Learning Curve, Gerard and guest cohost Daiana Lambrecht, Senior Director of Parent Leadership and Advocacy at Rocketship Public Schools, interview Dr. Deborah Plant, editor of the 2018 book Barracoon: The Story of the Last “Black Cargo” by Zora Neale Hurston. Dr. Plant discusses Hurston’s work as an anthropologist telling the story of one of the last survivors of the infamous Middle Passage. To mark Black History Month, she explores, through Hurston’s interviews with Oluale Kossola (Cudjo Lewis), the enslavement and displacement of native West Africans more than 50 years after the slave trade was outlawed in the U.S. Dr. Plant discusses enslaved Africans striving for education, freedom, and community in the U.S., and the importance for American schoolchildren today learning about and remembering these stories. She closes the interview with a reading from Barracoon.
Stories of the Week: Daiana discussed a New York Times article, “Education Issues Vault to Top of the G.O.P.’s Presidential Race,” that illustrates how partisanship and culture wars are detracting from the conversation about classroom trends. As the 2024 election approaches, she notes a need to hear parents’ voices and underscore the importance of school choice. Gerard cited a partnership between the College of William and Mary and Colonial Williamsburg to highlight the Williamsburg Bray School, founded in 1760 to educate Black children. The school, he noted, illustrates the resistance, resilience, and endurance of the Black community in that era, and gives a “window into their lives beyond slavery.”


Dr. Deborah Plant is an African American and Africana Studies independent scholar, writer, and literary critic specializing in the life and works of Zora Neale Hurston. She is editor of the New York Times bestseller Barracoon: The Story of the Last “Black Cargo”by Zora Neale Hurston. Dr. Plant is also editor of The Inside Light: New Critical Essays on Zora Neale Hurston, and the author of Zora Neale Hurston: A Biography of the Spiritand Every Tub Must Sit On Its Own Bottom: The Philosophy and Politics of Zora Neale Hurston. She was instrumental in founding the University of South Florida’s Department of Africana Studies and in the development of its graduate program. She holds a B.A. degree in Fine Arts from Southern University (Baton Rouge), a M.A. degree in French from Atlanta University, and M.A. and Ph.D. degrees in English from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

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Gerard Robinson: Hello, listeners, this is Gerard Robinson from beautiful Charlottesville, Virginia. Welcome to another exciting episode of The Learning Curve. I am joined today not by my usual partner Cara, who’s doing some great things, but I’m joined by someone who I will call a member of the reform family. Her name is Daiana Lambrecht, and I’d like to welcome you. You work at Rocketship. I know several of the people who helped get off the ground, but thank you for joining me as a cohost.

Daiana Lambrecht: Well, thank you. It’s a pleasure being here and pleasure to host with you Gerard. Really excited to be in this space.

Gerard: This is the first time we have a chance to tag team, so tell the listeners a little bit about yourself, where you live, all those good things.

Daiana: Absolutely, absolutely. Well, so, my name is Diana Lambrecht. I’m actually based here out of San Antonio, Texas. I am an immigrant myself, I am from Argentina, had my elementary school years there and immigrated to Florida for middle school and beyond. My family is still in Florida and yeah, what’s brought me to the education space has been my experiences in the classroom both in Argentina and the United States. My mother used to be an educator was super-active and avid about us achieving our version of the American Dream in this country but often realizing that our schools sometimes are not set up to support immigrant students. I was very lucky that even though I was undocumented for many years I had peers that saw something in me and educators who really championed my efforts for me to be able to make it to college and now, since graduating, been joined through Teach for America to become a bilingual teacher here in San Antonio, and my time in the classroom propelled me forward to work with parents and in the advocacy space because if we truly want to make reform in education to ensure that education represents our current population in the United States and that we’re able to provide a high-quality education for all students regardless of whether they’re immigrants or zip code or what their background is, parents are a key, key piece to this effort and that’s what I do for a living today, Rocketship as a senior director of parent leadership and advocacy.

Gerard: Great story, both personal and professional, and Cara will be proud to know—Cara’s husband is from Argentina and she is a great fan of Argentina, spent time in there as well—so, glad to have you on board. Well, since you’re the cohost and guest this time, what’s your story of the week?

Daiana: Yes, so my story is an article that came up on the New York Times was actually posted yesterday and the title is Education Issues Vault to Top of the G.O.P.’s Presidential Race. Essentially this article is about how, you know, as candidates are preparing for the 2024 presidential election on the republican side educations raising up to the top of the issues I think a lot of the efforts that candidates that are trying to run for 2024 on their own home states and our center on a lot of issues around cultural wars, parental rights for really kind of how to bring in people more into what’s happening around education but yeah definitely picked this article because it definitely—my work as we’re doing work not just here in the state of Texas but in California Milwaukee, Nashville, and DC we’re seeing how partisanship is actually detracting the conversation from education and what’s really happening with our kids, particularly after the pandemic. So definitely, we’re seeing that the sense of partisanship and not really school choice is the biggest threat that we’re seeing in education right now, and I really want to emphasize how it’s affecting communities of color. You know, we saw it’s we’re celebrating Black History Month in February but right now when it comes to the experience of Black students, we should be alarmed. You know, Black students lost about 13 points compared to five points in the National Assessment of Educational Progress tests. We saw the biggest declines in about 30 years not only Black students are experiencing this but also our Latino students and even to bring it back to how folks are leaving this on the ground even in order in the city of Milwaukee where we serve Black students ourselves as Rocketship, 44% of our Black students are failing to meet basic expectations in education and that’s an alarming number that we should be concerned and you know really want to push forward like how are we shifting the conversation as we’re gearing up to 2024 elections you know this work starts early to really center the experience of families of color and making sure that parent voice is at the core of what’s being proposed as part of the conversation and the agenda for both parties, frankly, because you know we see both how on the Republican side we have moral dialogue on cultural wars on the Democratic side we have a dialogue that’s really center on adult well-being and less conversations around post-pandemic academic success and, you know, we should be thinking about how we’re shifting that conversation in these coming months and how we’re involving parents of color who are choosing school choice in growing rates. We’re seeing even like enrollment increases and majority of the kids that we’re serving are students of color because families know that we are providing something different and better, but I wish this would be more of a conversation that we’re having more, frankly, as a nation as we’re heading up to elections.

Gerard: No, great story when I think about 2024 and the fact that we are already in 2023 in February education of course will play a big issue. Only a few months ago we had you know over 30 gubernatorial elections a number of governors made education her or his, our platform I think it will be important in 2024 I think where we I have maybe one different opinion in terms of the author of the article is I don’t think the right is solely the one involved in cultural works I think the left is involved in culture wars. In fact, when Trump won the election, charter school and voucher school advocates who for the most part chose to be friendly, work together once he won you found many in the on the left and many in the charter school movement started came after those on the right and those who were for ESAs, tax credits, and vouchers in ways that we had not before. So, there’s a culture war but it’s definitely a bipartisan one and then, number two, parental rights is important that being will continue to leave but I think one thing the Republicans should think about is, it’s great to tell parents that they have the right to be involved with child education, but let’s also talk about parental accountability.

Daiana: That’s right.

Gerard: We need to make sure that parents are doing what they can to get their children to school, if they can to support them at home with supplemental work online paid or otherwise.  If they’re working and can’t do it try to find a network of people who can happen because I’m all about choice but also apparent countability but I also believe that we have to also talk about the important role that teachers play in this process so there’s a way of actually finding some common ground between parental rights and the role of teachers and frankly I’m not looking for any presidential candidate to shape how I think about the subject, because frankly people like me and you who are doing the work either on the ground through policy research or through shows like The Learning Curve, so thank you so much for sharing that art article with our listeners.

My article is closer to home. This is from Williamsburg, Virginia, a very historical place in our country so as you mentioned this is Black History Month. Black History Month grew out of black history date which was started by Dr. Carter G. Woodson who had he in fact has roots here in Virginia as well he is the second African American to earn a doctorate from Harvard the first person being W.E.B. Dubois.

So, this is from Williamsburg and more particularly the College of William and Mary. So, in 2001 in fact this month colonial Williamsburg and William and Mary announced he had identified these all white building that was tucked away on the campus and after they filled some excavation work they found out that the structure actually once housed the Williamsburg Bray school now the discovery was important because it was an interesting combination of building—so a story about architecture—goes back to the eighteenth century, so we’ve got architectural history and who was in the school, and, so they identified that the Williamsburg Bray school was one of the earliest institutions in North America dedicated to the education of Black students. The school began in 1760, it was a 17 by 33-foot building and it was on the corner of a Prince George and North Broadway St. So, today it is a college dormitory and so when they started doing more work, they identified the school operated for approximately 14 years and they have between 300 and 400 students between the ages of three to 10 and they were taught by a schoolteacher named Ann Wagner.

So, Williamsburg, Colonial Williamsburg and William and Mary said we’re going to actually take the building, give it a new home. But we want to spend time making sure that the people of Virginia and really the country understand the importance of the school. Now, one person who really has a strong link to this issue is a Janice Kennedy, and why she is important to this conversation is because not only is she a lifelong resident of the Williamsburg area she also, her son, Adam Kennedy also worked for the foundation—they’re actually descendants, they’re one of the 86 descendants who have family ties to the enslaved Africans who at one point were children at the school and she said quote “when most people think of African Americans in the 18th century they usually think of slavery,” she said “but the institution of slavery was something that was forced on my ancestors. It didn’t say anything about who they were and how they were valued the history of the Bray school and the stories of the children who were students there is a window into their lives beyond slavery it’s a window into their hearts into their minds this is an opportunity to connect with their strength and resistance, resilience, endurance, and humility.”

So, next week the College of William and Mary and Colonial Williamsburg will have a celebration leadership from the university but also from the community we’ll be there to celebrate on that all in the finding but the story that is 1760 enslaved Africans were involved in education that’s important to note because that’s you know what before we had the signing of the Declaration of Independence in 1776, before 1787 with the creation of the Constitution, and what’s important is that between 1776 and 1787 although there were 11 colonies that had a constitution, only five colonies had a clause in there dealing with education. Virginia wasn’t one of them, but before that there there were a group of people getting together and having education. That’s my story. What are your thoughts?

Daiana: No, I love that you were able to highlight this Gerard, this particular story. As a history buff—I actually did my undergraduate degree in history—I think it’s crucial for us to be able to get a better understanding around what life even outside of slavery and particularly when it comes to education has impacted our roots in in this country, and kind of how do we connect it back to what’s happening presently, you know, and how we’re continuing to serve Black students in classrooms today I think really important point and something to celebrate hopefully. No, so it’s something wonderful to celebrate in terms of African American history for our current students and broader population to continue learning about our roots here in America and also how this population can continue to thrive even in the context of today’s education.

Gerard: So, for our listeners to go to William and Mary’s webpage, also go to the webpage for Colonial Williamsburg. They may have more information about the event, which will take place next week. I do believe it may be telecast, but if not, I’ll try to identify a link for it and we’ve got to our team at The Learning Curve so they can post it, if not this week next week. But I also think in the moment that we live in now where there are concerns about African American history, I think so much of that is being politicized and being caught up in the concept of being woke. Now, what’s interesting is the term “woke” itself has its roots in African American culture and the whole idea of being awakened from the sleepiness of not only history but also darkness, and so when we think about the contribution that Black people have made to American history, this story is unique. Particularly in Virginia, which we know was the seat of the Confederacy. First it was in Montgomery, Alabama, then moved to Richmond, Virginia. But in some southern States and in some other states outside of the South there’s just really interesting conversations about history. Surely, saying that in 1760 enslaved Africans were learning in school they were enslaved saying they were enslaved in fact is not saying anything negative about the United States, it’s identifying where they were at the time. In saying that we should teach African American history in schools—not just for the sake of African Americans and trust me I was an African American who lived in a black neighborhood, went to a predominantly black elementary school, went to a predominantly white high school—it wasn’t until I moved to college that I actually learned African American history. It just didn’t benefit me, but it also benefited my White, Hispanic, Native American, Asian, and biracial or bicultural families who were there as well, so, as we celebrate African American History Month let’s also dig deeper and look at what it meant to be educated in the time period where even propertyless white men had no right to vote, where white women, unless you were elite. So, this is a time for us to celebrate and I think if we’re going to talk about American history we should use this month to elevate but also to call out what I would call some of the political silliness as relates to the role of African American history and American thought.

Daiana: Gerard, I couldn’t agree with you more as a former educator I was charged with teaching a social studies curriculum and I remember our section on slavery was literally one paragraph. So, I think there’s a lot to do as we think about how we celebrate the history and the multiple perspectives that we have in this country from not just only the African American community or Latino community, Asian American, and so forth and Native history, as well. So lots to do when it comes to offering our students in our classrooms you know a multitude of perspectives through a more broader curriculum as well.

Gerard: Thank you so much for that conversation. Well, to continue the conversation about what American history looks like we’re going to have Dr. Deborah Plant join us next.

[00:15:08] Deborah: show. Thank you very much.

[00:15:10] Thank you for having me.

[00:15:12] Diana: Dr. Deborah Plant, she’s the editor of the New York Times bestselling Barraccon: The Story of the Last “Black Cargo” by Zora Neale Hurston. Plant is also an editor of The Inside Light, the new critical essays on Zora Neal Huston’s and the author of Zora Neal Huston’s, A Biography of the Spirit and Every Tub Must Sit on Its Own Bottom, The philosophy and politics of Zora Neal Huston. She was instrumental in founding the University of South Florida’s Department of Africana Studies and in the development of its graduate program plan chair, the department for five years, and was an associate professor of Africana studies there until her appointment as an associate professor of English 2014 to 2015.

[00:15:59] She [00:16:00] also, at yours, degree in Fine Arts from the Southern University of a Rouge a master’s degree in French from Atlanta University, a master’s and PhD degrees in English from the University of Nebraska Lincoln. So, thank you so much for being here with us, Dr. Plant, you’re a distinguished editor and scholar of Zora Neale Hurston amongst the greatest American writers, anthropologists of the 20th century. Before we talk about her book, Barracoon, would you share with our listeners what the general public educators and students should know and better appreciate about her sins and her remarkable life and writings?

[00:16:40] Deborah: Oh, well that would be quite a lot when we talk about both her, her life and her writings. Because she was such a vast and prolific social scientist and writer. Well, one of the things that I really want people to know because it comes up so often, is that Zora Neale Hurston as we talk about her remarkable life generally, there is the tendency to talk about the latter part of her life as though it was somehow problematic.

[00:17:14] And scholars and writers and, those who, study Hurston quite often will cast her as someone whose last years were undesirable. That she died in poverty and she died unknown. and out of touch and all of these kinds of things. And, and this is actually just not the case. Hurston was very well known where she was, and let’s say number one that when she died, her death was in Fort Pierce, which is a place that quite often people don’t associate with Hurston.

[00:17:51] We know a lot about Eatonville and that she was born and raised in this well not born, but raised in this community that was all black. And so, she was quite influenced by, that kind of upbringing. But her later years were in Fort Pierce, which is where she died. Often people will say that she died in, Eatonville, that’s not the case, but I’d like to remark on that because it continues to be something that is how Hurston is portrayed, which does not really accurately portray her later years. Hurston worked in Fort Pierce. She worked as a journalist. She worked as a teacher. though it’s true that she was not, by any means financially, well off, at the same time, she actually basked in the wealth of community, which is one of the things that she studied her whole life was community, the black community and the ethos of community.

[00:18:54] And so she lived that all the way until her, last year, she died in 1960 and up until almost, you know, her last breath practically. She was working she was writing, she was working on one of her manuscripts, which is still a, a manuscript had not been published, but she was even working to have that work published, we’re talking about here at the Great.

[00:19:19] And she worked on that until she had the stroke that had her be in the nursing hall. So even then, and before then, when she was still writing she was surrounded by a community of people who loved and cared for her. She lived in the home of one of her friends Dr. Benton, who looked on her regularly.

[00:19:42] His daughters Orlando Lee and Margaret Benton would pick her up on Sundays and bring her to their home and have dinner there. Scholars like Valerie Boyd write about her last years Lynn Moreland write about her last years and how her funeral was well attended even before then. When she was sick, her family visited her.

[00:20:05] And the thing about Hurston, because she was so independent minded, she was so, very much autonomous and, and very non-materialistic. So, when her family would visit and leave her money or purchase grocery and that kind of thing, she would give that to the people around her.

[00:20:25] She would share that with her community, so, this idea that she was impoverished, that she was forgotten about, that she was buried in an un unmarked grave and all of that kind of thing, even though some, some aspects of that may resonate and there’s some truth to some of that, overall, this is not the case. And I want to reiterate that because when we look at this remarkable life, this remarkable woman, this African, African American woman from the South of modest means really became this icon that we know today. And the idea that, a black woman who is successful, who has had so many accomplishments that she cannot live a successful life that also has a successful ending is just something that we need to reconsider.

[00:21:23] Why we want to insist that that was how she ended her life when that’s not the case. So when we look at women in general and black women in particular, it’s very important that we understand that when you rise to your level of, genius and you express that in the world, it’s not necessarily so that there will be some kind of ill fate for you.

[00:21:52] This whole thing about, “a whistling woman and a and a crowing hen will soon come to no good end” is still an idea that a lot of people have in terms of a, a woman and, her will in the world to be the best that she can be and go as far as she can go. And so, Hurston was this, like this meteor who shone across our whole cosmos, and she shared so much with us about the cultural wealth of African Americans. And, even as she did that, she did what she wanted to do. She did it in the way she wanted to do it. She, she basically lived life on her own terms, and everyone should know and understand that we have that right to live life on our own terms.

[00:22:40] And that doesn’t mean that in the end, there’s some disaster waiting for us because we choose to do that. But Hurston is a wonderful example of living your life on your own terms, staying true to yourself all the way to the end.

[00:22:55] Diana: Thank you, Dr. Plant. Such powerful words. definitely appreciate the perspective and reframing around wealth being grounded in community and really reminding us that there’s agency in, living life in your own terms. I want to move over to ask you a little more, right, like you’re the best-selling editor of Hurston’s Barracoon, the Story of the Last “Black Cargo.” Could you give us a larger context behind this unique and amazing book about Lewis Oluale, the presumed last living survivor of the transatlantic slave trade, the Middle Passage.

[00:23:33] Specifically would talk about his early life in West Africa, the attack by female warriors who slaughtered his townspeople. Horrific details of being held in the barraccoons and being sold to American slave traders in 1860, more than 50 years after the slave trade was illegal under U.S. law.

[00:23:55] Deborah: That’s gonna be a lot to share So I’m going to address some things broadly, but if, I miss some particular points that you want me to address, just let me know and, and I’ll do that. So, Barracoon captures the life of Oluale Kossola, who is also known as Cudjo Lewis and Zora Neale Hurston travels down south to Alabama to collect this story.

[00:24:25] She collects this story on behalf of Dr. Carter G. Woodson and Carter G. Woodson, who is the renowned father of Black history who initiated Black History Week that has become the whole month of February being celebrated as Black history, he is the source of that, the beginning of that.

[00:24:51] And he was aware of Oluale and also known as Cudjo Lewis. And he asked Hurston as she was out doing her work, her collecting expedition in the South that asked her to also collect that story from Kossola. So she goes to Africatown and she has a series of interviews with him.

[00:25:19] And so she captures in those interviews his life from Banté West Africa, which is where he was born. And the way she presents it to us, she gives us this whole history of his capture in Banté West Africa by those of the Dahomey army. And amongst those in that army were these Dahomey women called Amazons.

[00:25:50] And though they were the ones initially that coastal talks about when they raid his town right before daylight. And it was the habit, so to speak, or it was in the strategic and political kind of maneuvering of King Glele, who was the son of King Ghezo of Dahomey to raid those towns that would not accommodate whatever were his demands and the king of Banté would not accommodate King Glele. And because of this, that was dis raided. And during this raid, the entire town was vanquished. And those who survived that, like Kossola, were basically marched to Abomey, the capital of Dahomey, and then forced into enslavement. They were initially kept in what you call these, these barracoons that were built along the coastline of west Africa, particularly in Kossola’s case, right at the port of Whydah, right at the Bight of Benin. And this is where the Clotilda, which is piloted by William Foster intervenes here and purchases those that he negotiates for when he deals with the representatives of, the King of Dahomey. This is a very important aspect of the narrative because when we look at the narratives of people of African descent in America, there are none that really give us a first-person perspective on what happened prior to enslavement in America.

[00:27:45] So the classical slave narratives typically are about those African Americans who were already on the continent, who were already. Enslaved in America who were born in enslavement. [00:28:00] So if we look at someone like, Frederick Douglass, for instance, his story begins here in America.

[00:28:07] But Kossola’s story begins on the continent, and his narrative is one of few narratives that will have any kind of an insight into what happened on the continent of Africa, what happened in the ships as Africans were put in these, in the holes of the ship what happened, you know, as they crossed the Middle Passage and the whole disembarkation uh, all of these kinds of things.

[00:28:35] And we find this in Barracoon. So, as the historian Sivian Jeff tells us it this phenomenal historic document that Hurston collected and preserved for us, right? So, she collected this story as early as 1931, but it is only like, almost a hundred years later that it [00:29:00] was published in 2018.

[00:29:02] But the fact that she collected this story in the way that she did, she presented it as what it was, which was basically an ethnography. And she had the wherewithal as a, this young social scientist. To capture this story in this way to give us this story in coastal language in his particular vernacular.

[00:29:28] And she had the integrity to maintain her insistence on not changing the language, right? Because some publishers were interested in publishing this narrative, however, they wanted her to change how it was written as one publisher put it. we are interested in the story of Kossola learn the life of, course, love.

[00:29:54] But we want you to write it in language rather than dialect, which is to say, they wanted her to change this very important feature of this ethnographic work, which was the language. And what Hurston knew and would stand by was that this language was one of the authenticating features of the ethnography because language revealed so much about someone who they are, where they’ve been, what they’ve been through all of these kinds of things.

[00:30:28] And so she would not do that. And so consequently it wasn’t published, but years later, we have it in 2018 as Barraccoon. So, these are some of the aspects of it.

[00:30:43] Diana: This was wonderful Dr. Plant, in such a powerful context and history that you just described to really help us better understand the full history of the journey of African Americans into this continent. So much power to that. And I’m curious would you continue the story of Cudjoe Lewis, Kossola, and his Middle Passage, including Captain William Foster and Timothy Meaher, the Alabama-based slave traders who operated and built a slave ship that brought and more than a hundred other Africans to slavery in Alabama?

[00:31:20] Deborah: International trafficking had been banned in America in 1807. The law was passed that trafficking would end, and it was enacted in 1808. So that was a ban on importing Africans out of Africa into America. But there were many so-called pro-slavery Americans who, who wanted to maintain this so-called trade.

[00:31:55] And Timothy Meaher was one of them. And as Herston noted in her preface to Barraccoon it was said that Timothy Meaher had, talking with some of his associates. he made a bet that he would smuggle Africans into Alabama in spite of the ban on this trafficking.

[00:32:16] And he would do it in less than two years. And he would not hang for it because hanging was supposed to be the punishment for basically an act of piracy, because since it was no longer trafficking was no longer quote unquote legal, anyone who was engaged in that would be considered, a pirate and committing acts of piracy.

[00:32:44] And the punishment for that was hanging. And Timothy Meaher said he would do it. He would traffic Africans into Alabama and he would not Have suffered any punishment for that. And actually, you know, this was the case, this was true. So, in his bet so to speak, he conspired with William Foster, whose ship the Clotilda was outfitted to accommodate those Africans that they had conspired to smuggle out of Africa.

[00:33:19] And this was the case. So after King Glele has raided not only Banté, but other towns along the way and had captured people from those towns and had them stationed at, his palace. in Dahomey and having them there on the coastline there, where the barons were awaiting those who would come to purchase William Foster was, carrying out the will of Timothy Meaher to purchase African Africans and take them into America, in through Alabama.

[00:33:55] And, this is what happened. So Kossola is one of 110 people who were put onto the Clotilde and put into the, hold of, the ship. and I think it’s very important also to note that, and we might get to this a little later, but when they took Kossola and the others from Africa, they were basically committing. This is act of deracination, uprooting people from everything that they knew, uprooting them from their home, from their families, from their language from their whole idea about life and, how life really what it meant and, how individuals related to one another within that idea of life.

[00:34:46] And the worldview that traditional African worldview that they had, they were uprooted from all of this. And not only were they taken from that, they were also literally deprived of [00:35:00] the clothes that they were wearing. They were forced to. Basically disrobe and they were put on these ships naked.

[00:35:09] They had nothing. They were stripped of everything. And so this act of deracination, just continued as they were taken across Middle Passage and the Atlantic and brought into Alabama and then having nothing but being forced to work on behalf of those like Timothy Meaher, who benefited from what they did have their capacity to work, their intelligence, their creativity, their knowledge, everything that, they used to do, the work that they were forced to do, which benefited others.

[00:35:47] So, this is the scenario that, that we have when we look at how greed will drive people to do the kind of things that Timothy Meaher and [00:36:00] William Foster would do. And one of the things Hurston says about this bet that, Timothy Meaher have placed, she said, it wasn’t a prank.

[00:36:09] It wasn’t, you know, something he did just to show off and to let everyone know that how much he defied America and the constitution that he decided that he would not honor respect what was really upmost in the mind of people like Timothy Meaher and many who believed, like, like he did, was the idea that he had the right, as a white person, he had the right as a man, he had the right to build his wealth out of the souls, the bodies, the intelligence and knowledge of black people. And he felt that, because that was his birthright, that he had the right to exploit others.

[00:36:57] That that was more important than honoring the constitution, honoring the fact that, you know, this practice had been outlawed. What was more important to him is what he thought he would gain. And it was not only just that he would continue to wax wealthy. By virtue of the forced labor of others, but that he would maintain his idea of himself as, this individual who was considered to be white and supreme and therefore above others and superior to others.

[00:37:35] And so this idea of white supremacy, this idea of white superiority and this hierarchy of, people and color and races, and all of this played into this quote unquote game that he played in terms of placing that bet.

[00:37:51] Gerard: One of the interesting things you noted about Kossola is the fact that he remembered his history, his culture, his language, where he came from. And so, when he arrives in Alabama, he goes through all this, the treachery that you discussed. And then 1865, after Civil War ends in 13th Amendment, abolish his slavery.

[00:38:14] He’s there along with some of the others and they settle in a site that becomes known as Africatown. It’s a self-contained independent community. It’s not something we learn about in K-12 schools or even college, unless you study African American or African history. Talk to us about Africatown.

[00:38:31] What did it mean and how does it fit into his story to the next level?

[00:38:36] Deborah: Africatown means so much and I hope well I’ll be able to, share, with you the significance of, of Africatown. I look at Africatown as a microcosm of African history of Atlantic world history as a microcosm of African diaspora history and as a microcosm of the black experience in America. And let me just go back to when we, as you pointed out, he, gets here and at the end of the Civil War, they’re free. And they began to build a life for themselves and what we have when we look at Kossola’s story and how he tells it, what he tells us, and the whole process of transitioning from enslavement to freedom transitioning from being the dependent to becoming independent and transitioning from, for Kossola and those off the Clotilda transitioning also from being Africans only to becoming African Americans or American Africans as some scholars might, conceive of that identity.

So we have this process of acculturation, how did African peoples become a. African Americans. And when we, look at all of these aspects of, Kossola in terms of his language, in terms of building Africatown where he, as he’s talking to, Hurston, he’s talking about, you know, social structure.

[00:40:29] He’s talking about government, he’s talking about religion or spirituality. He’s talking about education names and how we name our children and all of these kinds of things. And, and so we see how the traditional African worldview becomes infused with these processes of Americanization.

[00:40:52] And in that we have this, acculturation that. it’s there for us to, to look at as [00:41:00] anthropologists, as sociologists, as psychologists, as linguists and, and you name it. So, Africatown is not only this model of acculturation, but it also tells us something about the genius of African peoples and the ingenuity that they brought here with them.

[00:41:23] Because like I said before, they were de vaccinated just uprooted from the motherland the mother tongue. And they’re mothers. They’re actual mothers. You know, when costal talks about being here in, in America and he wakes up in a nightmare calling for his mother. He’s still calling for his mother.

[00:41:48] And so having been uprooted from that and having, all of your clothes, all, you know, taken from you and you arrive in this foreign land [00:42:00] without, without so much, right? So this gives us one way to understand how it is that as the song says, how we got over how is it that we are able to, as they say, make a way out of no way?

[00:42:20] How do you make something from nothing? And when we look at the fact that these 110 Africans who were. Just unceremoniously brought into America. They had nothing in their hands. So, we have to look at what they had in their minds and in their hearts. we begin to understand something about spirit.

[00:42:46] We began to understand something about resourcefulness. We began to understand something about ingeniousness and, we began to understand something about culture, because culture is. not just, these various kinds of artifacts or expressions. It’s also something that is within the human being.

[00:43:06] And so we get to see something about the embodiment of African cultural heritage. And so, when they build Africatown, they are building it based on the social and political constructs that they had learned and were born into in West Africa. we see the reproduction of culture, and so we see, what, you know, scholars call cultural retentions and how that served us in America, people who basically not only.

[00:43:43] Had everything taken from us, but we had very little given to us.

[00:43:48] GR: Absolutely. Here’s the last question, as we’re in Black History Month and as we’re talking about the state of Alabama, naturally, we’ll think of Dr. King, his wife, and the Montgomery Boycott. You;ve just added a whole new thing for us to think about, not only Africatown, but the story of Kossola and those who are with him.

[00:44:07] But of course, this is tough to happen without Zora Neale Hurston, who by the way, I’m a Howard University graduate and Zora Neal Hurston is one of the cofounders of the Hilltop Newspaper at Howard and also, it’s always good to have HBCU sister on given your Southern and Atlanta University degrees. When teachers and educators are thinking about this month.

[00:44:29] Zora Neale Hurston surely should be someone we think about. We don’t know a lot about her. Maybe if you read the Harlem Renaissance, there’s something there, you’ll get her. But she was much more ubiquitous. As a person, what are maybe one big takeaway that teachers and educators should think about for her as someone to teach not only this month, particularly this month, but afterwards as well?

[00:44:49] Deborah: one of the things that we are newly understanding about Zora Neale Hurston is that she was not only an outstanding writer, novelist, but also an outstanding social scientist. And this is utterly important. And scholars are now moving in the direction of, acknowledging and claiming this aspect of a life and work.

[00:45:17] And why is this so important as, as a social scientist? She was actually revolutionary because when hers comes on the scene as a cultural anthropologist, it’s at a moment in American history where those cultures and ethnicities that were not Nordic, white, were considered inferior. And there was this notion that native Americans, for instance, were part of some vanishing race, and they were being supplanted by, Europeans and particularly Nordic Europeans because according to the supremacist hierarchy, Nordics were even above other Europeans in their ideology. And so, this is the time where we see scientific racism trying to take root or continuing to justify the marginalization of people who were not white. So, biological determinism, scientific racism, eugenics where the idea that, what those in so-called power were supposed to do was to marginalize and eradicate and in the production of people who they considered inferior, right? So, Hurston comes into her studies of cultural anthropology during this time, and she is mentored by Franz Boas, who is considered the father of American anthropology. And so, one of the things that he is renowned for is the theory of cultural relativity, where there is this understanding that cultures are not in competition with each other and none is superior to others, but that cultures exist in and of themselves and are to be evaluated based on, the culture itself, not in competition with any other.

[00:47:23] And there is no hierarchy to that. And so, Boas as Franz Boas, just, he refuted these racist ideas about race and ethnography and physical attributes and all of that kind of thing. So, he pioneered that idea. And Hurston incorporated those ideas within her work. Of course, it only reinforced what she already knew because growing up in Eatonville, which was, as I said, an all-Black town, and seeing the ingenuity of Black people in their capacity to govern themselves, their capacity to create, their own communities and maintain them, she already knew about Black excellence.

[00:48:11] So what, Franz Boas offered was simply to reinforce what she already knew now as a social scientist was so very important about Hurston and Barraccoon is that even though this book was, finally published in 2018, Hurston and, and we only know about it, at that point in time. But Hurston, this was the first booklet work that she had written, and it was the first work that tells us something about her genius.

[00:48:43] Because when we look at the, I would call it perfection of this ethnography that she wrote and presented and, and preserved for us, when we look at how just excellent it is and, what it, you know, the treasure trove that it is for us in terms of everything that we can find in this work. She did this at the beginning of her career. she was still an undergraduate student. She had not even gotten her undergraduate degree yet, and she was in the field. By herself collecting this work and figuring out how to go about her work as an ethnographer and a cultural anthropologist, and to get, this kind of, communication from Kossola. Others had interviewed him before, but no one had sat with him and taken the time to honor his humanity the way she did. And this is what Hurston brings us in all that she had done. She said that African American folklore, culture and history, that it was the greatest wealth on the continent.

And she spent her life collecting it, preserving it, celebrating it. And through all of this, what she’s also doing is, refuting all of these ideas about so-called inferiority, so-called lacking in, spirituality having, limited intelligence and all of this kind of thing. Every time Hurston collected a story or a prayer or a children’s song or an ethnography, she was saying, these are human beings. These are intelligent individuals. These are people who are endowed with the same divine spirit that everyone else is. And so she captures our humanity, so to speak, and she invites everyone to, share in this and to understand this, and to understand that these ideas about being subhuman, these ideas about being inferior, these ideas about being somehow lesser than that this, you know, comes from very well, what I call well, I call it what it is, racist and, and white supremacist idea that really doesn’t speak the truth about humankind in human beings.

And rather than some out and out argument about these ideologies of eugenics and racial uh, scientific racism and biological determinants, what she would do is collect this, lore these songs, these sayings, all of this that she collected and oftentimes would present to us by virtue of, a stage play or musical or what have you.

[00:51:46] She was always showing us what she called that, which the black soul lived by. And thereby, just really having us understand something about humanity, something about being these expressions of divinity. And we get this so deeply in Barraccon, where Kossola just, you know, he shows us his heart, he shows us his compassion.

[00:52:15] He shows us that in spite of the trauma experience, that he maintained his humanity. And Hurston captured that for us.

[00:52:23] GR: When you mentioned Boas also reminded me of Dr. Monte. Who had relations with Boas, but also helped to fight scientific racism. And you’re right, her belief in folklore, in storytelling as a way of communicating history and culture is important.

[00:52:41] We want to end by giving you an opportunity to read a passage from the book one that you think is worthy of us to hear. After we finish, we’ll conclude.

[00:52:49] Deborah: Well, okay. when the Civil War was over and Kossola and his compatriots were [00:53:00] beginning their, their life as, free people, one of the things that they wanted to do, or the first thing that they wanted to do was to go back home, go back to Africa, and. They tried to save their money to do that, but as costal said, we work hard and try to save our money, but it, it’s too much money we need, so we think we stay here.

[00:53:23] So when they decided that they would stay here, they had costal to approach Timothy Meaher to ask whether or not he would grant them some land because they had been taken from what they did have and they had worked but had nothing because you know, their work be benefited others. So Kossola approached him he approached Timothy Meaher.

[00:53:49] He says, well, if you give Cudjo all, all the mobile, that railroad and all the banks, Cudjo don’t want it cuz it ain’t home. Captain Tim, you brought us from our country where we had land. You made a slave. Now they make us free, but we ain’t got no country. And we ain’t got no land. Why don’t you give us peace this land so we can build ourself a home?

[00:54:16] And of course well, maybe not of course, but this only infuriated Timothy Meaher. And they weren’t granted any land, but they were able to buy land. And he says, therefore we building the houses on the land. We buy after we divide it up, we call our village Africantown. We say that cuz we wanna go back in the Africa soil and we see we can’t go, therefore we make it to Africa where they fetch us.

[00:54:48] We here and we got to stay. And I like this passage. I have many favorites, but. I chose that one because [00:55:00] of everything that’s going on right now with this idea that, someone can tell us what, what our place and what our space is in America when coastal and his compatriots had to make this way outta no had to, they built a town out of nothing virtually, and they created a space for themselves.

[00:55:24] And so as they created that space for themselves, African Americans have continued to create space for ourselves, and not just us, but those who are in allyship with us as well. And as some people in across, this country are trying to close those spaces down, trying to minimize them, trying to erase them even, It’s like, no, we are, we are here and we are here to stay and, we will have the space that we claim and the space that, is ours as citizens of this country.

[00:55:59] And [00:56:00] this coincides with the recent film on Hurston that’s called to claim a space, claiming a space. And so we have to continue to claim our space and take up our space because this honors Kossola and Hurston and all those that made this way out of no way.

[00:56:20] GR: Well, Dr. Plant, thank you so much for sharing. Not only the reading with us, but also this, the story. People we often don’t know. If we know about them, we find out we need a, a lot more. So, thank you for joining us. Listeners, make sure you buy the book and we look forward to conversation in the future.

[00:56:37] Deborah: Thank you so much. You’re very welcome.

[00:56:39] Thank you.[00:57:00]

Daiana: For tweet of the week, we have Amanda Gorman. She tweeted, “I’m so thrilled to have been nominated by the NAACP in the category of ascending guest performance if you’ve enjoyed my visit to Sesame Street you can vote, and she includes some links to be able to vote, so highly encourage you all to check her out!

Gerard: Thank you for joining me, Daiana.  This was a really good conversation, hopefully we can have you back and in the future when Cara isn’t able to join us, or if I’m not able to join, you two can join together and have conversations about Argentina.

Daiana: Thank you so much, that’ll be wonderful.

Gerard: Listeners, make sure you join us next week. We’re going to have another great guest. This guest is Gurcharan Das. He’s a public intellectual and author of the much-acclaimed book India Unbound and the trilogy on the classical Indian idea of life goals called The Difficulty of Being Good. Until then, listeners, have a great week.

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