Hurston’s book tells the story of Cudjo Lewis, who was born in what is now the West African country of Benin.
Originally named Kossula, he was only 19 years old when members of the neighboring Dahomian tribe captured him and took him to the coast.
There, he and about 120 others were sold into slavery and crammed onto the Clotilda, the last slave ship to reach the continental United States.
The Clotilda brought its captives to Alabama in 1860, just a year before the outbreak of the Civil War.
Even though slavery was legal at that time in the U.S., the international slave trade was not, and hadn’t been for over 50 years.
Hurston disagreed, and refused to change Lewis’ dialect—which was one of the reasons a publisher turned her manuscript down back in the 1930s.
Many decades later, her principled stance means that modern readers will get to hear Lewis’ story the way that he told it. »