Zora Neale Hurston’s book Barracoon remained unpublished for nearly a century for two reasons. First, publishers thought it would be too hard for the average person to read. Second, it raised uncomfortable questions about the slave trade.
When Ms. Hurston interviewed Oluale Kossula, who also used the name Cudjo Lewis, she transcribed their conversation in a way that depicted in writing the vernacular Kossula spoke. This was one rule of the ethnographic interview project conducted by the Works Projects Administration, for which Hurston was working at the time. The result, however, was difficult to read even for professionals. It was feared the public wouldn’t buy the book, because they wouldn’t understand it.
Kossula told the story of his capture in Africa, which wouldn’t have been possible without the cooperation of the chiefs and warriors in Dahomey, which is part of the West African country of Benin today. The notion that black people helped cause the enslavement of other black people wasn’t a popular view in the US after the beginning of the Civil Rights movement. It is still contentious today.