Between the Lines: Barracoon: The Story of the Last “Black Cargo” by Zora Neale Hurston – Meeting 2 of 3

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Date(s) - Thu, Jul, 16
5:30 pm - 6:30 pm


The Penn Museum invites you to unlock the human experience through literature. Join us for a unique twist on the classic book club model featuring carefully curated books with cultural connections, moderated by Penn Museum curators and special guests. A new book will be featured each month, from June through December.

Each month, Between the Lines participants will meet three times through interactive video conferencing: a kickoff, a check-in, and a concluding meeting at the end of the book. Readers are encouraged to continue the conversation and chat beyond these virtual meetings in the private Between the Lines Facebook Group. The moderator will share additional connections to the collection, supplemental readings and videos, and guiding questions through the virtual meetings and Facebook group.

July’s Featured Book

Barracoon: The Story of the Last ‘Black Cargo’ by Zora Neale Hurston

In 1927, Zora Neale Hurston went to Plateau, Alabama, just outside Mobile, to interview 86-year-old Cudjo Lewis. Of the millions of men, women, and children transported from Africa to America as slaves, Cudjo was then the only person alive to tell the story of this integral part of the nation’s history. Hurston was there to record Cudjo’s firsthand account of the raid that led to his capture and bondage 50 years after the Atlantic slave trade was outlawed in the United States.

In 1931, Hurston returned to Plateau, the African-centric community three miles from Mobile founded by Cudjo and other former slaves from his ship. Spending more than three months there, she talked in depth with Cudjo about the details of his life. During those weeks, the young writer and the elderly formerly enslaved man talked about Cudjo’s past—memories from his childhood in Africa, the horrors of being captured and held in a barracoon for selection by American slavers, the harrowing experience of the Middle Passage packed with more than 100 other souls aboard the Clotilda, and the years he spent in slavery until the end of the Civil War. Barracoon brilliantly illuminates the tragedy of slavery and of one life forever defined by it.

About the Moderator: Deborah Thomas

R. Jean Brownlee Professor of Anthropology Deborah Thomas, Ph.D., is interested in the afterlives of imperialism, in the forms of community, subjectivity, and expectation that are produced by violence, and in how these are expressed and mapped. Her current projects probe these issues in very different ways: one, for example, looks at the massive investment by the Chinese state and Chinese companies into infrastructures and consumer markets throughout the Caribbean in order to examine how the intensified Chinese presence displaces earlier colonial and imperial Western hemispheric relations, and how people are responding to these processes.

Thomas is also a filmmaker (Bad Friday and Four Days in May) and co-curated the Museum’s special exhibition Bearing Witness: Four Days in West Kingston. She recently began work on a new film project on the Ethiopian Zion Coptic Church in Jamaica. Having been a professional dancer before becoming an anthropologist, Thomas has long been committed a fusion of creative practice and scholarly research. In 2018, she launched the Center for Experimental Ethnography, a cross-school and interdisciplinary Center at Penn that supports creative research production among students and faculty.

$5 General Admission. Includes 3 meetings.

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