In a remarkable discovery almost 90 years after the abolition of slavery, an anthropologist named Zora located the last surviving slave on the final ship to bring Africans to the United States. Cujo, a young African man who had been kidnapped from his home, shared his heartbreaking story of being crammed into a boat for months and sent off to America to be sold as a slave.
Cujo’s story begins in what is now the West African country of Benin. At the age of 19, members of the neighboring Dahomey tribe beat, captured, and took him to the coast to be sold off. Cujo had dreams of marrying his childhood love and starting his own family, but those dreams were shattered when he was taken from his family and brought to the shore.
He, along with about 120 others, was sold into slavery and crammed into the Clotilda, the last slave ship to reach the continental United States in 1860. Despite the outlawing of the international slave trade in America in 1807, slave traders like Cujo’s captors found ways to evade detection and bring human cargo into the country.
After being brought to Alabama under the cover of darkness, Cujo and the other survivors were forced to hide in a swamp for several days, battling hunger and thirst. Many captives did not survive the treacherous voyage, and evidence of their crime was destroyed when the Clotilda was set ablaze on the banks of the Mobile-Tensaw Delta.
Cujo’s narrative provides a firsthand account of the devastating trauma of slavery and the forgotten horror of the voyages to unknown places. He describes the separation from his fellow captives, whom he had formed close bonds with during their time together on the slave ship. Cujo’s anguish is particularly profound when he speaks about his mother. The grief he feels when he thinks of her is so heavy that he often stops the interview to cry.
Arriving at the slave plantation, Cujo faced the harsh reality of being a white man’s property and forever enslaved. However, as the Civil War began, whispers of the North’s intent to free enslaved people reached Cujo’s ears. He initially dismissed these rumors, believing that his liberation would never come. But after Confederate General Robert E. Lee surrendered in April 1865, Union soldiers informed Cujo and others that they were finally free.
Despite his newfound freedom, Cujo faced challenges. He had no money, no place to sleep, and no knowledge of what to do next in a country that had been nothing but terrible to him. He, like many other emancipated slaves, hoped to receive compensation for the years he spent in bondage, including the promised “40 acres and a mule.” Unfortunately, the government failed to provide him with land, leading Cujo and 31 other free people to pool their resources and buy land near the state capital of Mobile. They established a community called Africa Town, where they could create a life for themselves.
Cujo would never see his family again, but he would carry his mother’s memory with him until the day he died. His story, as shared through Zora’s interviews, sheds light on the grim reality of slavery and the resilience of those who survived it.
In conclusion, Cujo’s journey from his homeland in Africa to his life as a slave in America is a haunting testament to the devastating effects of the slave trade. His narrative serves as a reminder of the strength and courage that enslaved people displayed in the face of unimaginable hardships. Through Zora’s interviews, Cujo’s story is now preserved, ensuring that future generations never forget the horrors of slavery and the pursuit of freedom.
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