Cudjoe Lewis

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Abaché and Cudjoe Kazoola Lewis at Africatown in the 1910s.

Cudjoe Kazoola Lewis, or Cudjo Lewis (ca. 1840 – 1935), is considered the last person born on African soil to have been enslaved in the United States when slavery was unlawful and had been ceased.

Life[edit]

Kazoola (his African name) was a native of Togo, a place north of Porto-Novo, Benin, where he was captured, and taken to the port of Ouidah. Together with more than a hundred other captured Africans, he was brought on the ship Clotilde to Mobile, Alabama, in the United States in 1860 during an illegal slave-trading venture.

When the slaves were divided among the investors in the deal, Kazoola and thirty-one other enslaved Africans were taken to the property owned by Timothy Meaher, shipbuilder and owner of the Clotilde. Due to a federal investigation, the Africans were at first left to fend for themselves. They quickly built shelters and started hunting game. While they could not lawfully be held as slaves, they were controlled by Meaher as if they were slaves. Five years later, at the end of the American Civil War in 1865, slavery was abolished, and Lewis and his people were declared to be free.

Lewis and his tribespeople requested repatriation to Africa, but this was not arranged. He and other Africans established a community at Magazine Point near Mobile, Alabama, which became called Africatown. They maintained their language and tribal customs for years and Lewis was very much a community leader, even meeting with prominent people such as Booker T. Washington. The neighborhood was also called Plateau and eventually became a suburb of Mobile.

Cudjoe was the longest-lived survivor of all those who were brought aboard the Clotilde. He was believed to be the last slave born in Africa and brought to the United States by the transatlantic slave trade. Before he died, he gave several interviews on his experiences, including one to the writer Zora Neale Hurston. During that interview in 1928, Hurston made a short film of Cudjoe, the only moving image that exists in the Western hemisphere of an African transported through the transatlantic slave trade.[1] Hurston named the last eight of the Clothilde's survivors as: "Abache (Clara Turner), Monachee (Kitty Cooper), Shamber, Kanko (who married Jim Dennison), Zooma (of Togo Tribe), Polute, Cudjo, and Orsey, or Orsta Keeby. Cudjo is the only one alive at present, a dignified, lovable, intelligent man."[2] He died in 1935 at the age of 94, in Plateau (Africa Town), Alabama.[3]

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