Going Back in Time with Auntie Zora: A Review of Barracoon by Zora Neal Hurston

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The Harlem Renaissance has always fascinated since childhood. Every characteristic of this era intrigues me from the artwork, to the literary accomplishments, to the birth of jazz which happens to be my favorite genre of music. This was also a period of internal migration on levels never before seen in U.S. History where  from 1916-1970 over six million African Americans escaped a racist and oppressive South and moved north carrying with them their rich cultural heritage and hopes for a better life. Life influences art and with memories of life in the South still fresh in their minds, Great Migrationers channeled their experiences through their art.  Langston Hughes, Claude McKay, Alain Locke, and Countee Cullen are household names. Unfortunately, female authors are less known. Zora Neal Hurston is the exception. Their Eyes Were Watching God,  her most popularly known work of fiction, was made into a movie for television starring Halle Berry. Yet Hurston was not solely a fiction writer and in fact was a successful anthropologist who studied cultures from the African diaspora.   

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Barraccoon,  was an example of her anthropological research that was completed well before her death but was just recently published. Barraccon is the story of a Cudjo Lewis an ex-slave living in Alabama in 1927. Over a period of weeks, Hurston works to gain his trust so that she could capture the story of his teenage years in West Africa, kidnapping by Dahomey female warriors, brief period of enslavement in the United States on the cusp of the Civil War, and his navigation as a freeman trying to protect his family after slavery in a hostile South. Hurston’s methods to gain Lewis’ trust is almost as intriguing as the events of his life and left me with a new appreciation for how to treat our elders and their stories with patience, respect,  and care. This woman has and always will have my respect for effort to capture our history and culture in fictional or academic scholarship. Definitely worth a read and gave me pleasure to add it to the shelves in my  home library.

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