Tuesday, January 7, 2014

A Gem of Zora Neale Hurston - Rare Film Footage of Cudjoe Lewis

The beginning of this film, Cudjoe Lewis the elderly man appears. He is the last known survivor of the slave ship Clotilde, and this is the only moving image of a former survivor of the middle passage, to have been captured on film.

Thanks to Zora Neale Hurston, we can see the images of Cudjoe Lewis.

Now Zora Neale Hurston is one of my favorite writers. But writing was only a fraction of what this amazing woman produced. She saw the value of talking to people, and so she set out throughout the south talking to black people in small country towns and settlements. She filmed their faces, she taped their voices and what remains is a treasure trove of glimpses into the folkways of people of the south, long forgotten by most, but saved for all to remember. She was a sociologist, anthropologist,  storyteller and more. And she traveled to meet the people of the south and to hear their stories.

One such person was Cudjoe Lewis was one of the last known formerly enslaved people known to have been born on the African continent and brought to America. Mr. Lewis was a survivor of the slave ship, Clotilde, and thanks to the brilliance an insight of the great Zora Neale Hurston, he was actually captured on film before he died in the 1930s. The Clotilde captured people from Dahomey (now known as the Benin Republic) and brought them into Mobile Bay. 

Zora Neale like many others knew of Lewis and she knew the value of allowing this man's story to be shared with the world. She captured him on fillm and the footage above represents the only moving image of an African who survived the middle passage from Africa to America. Cudjoe Lewis died in 1935 in Mobile Alabama in the community known as Africa Town. Though Lewis and other survivors longed to return to their native Dahomey, they were never afforded the chance to see African soil again. But his life and  legacy continue due to the wisdom of Ms. Hurston.

So special thanks to Zora Neale Hurston, we know so much more about our people, their customs, and their lives. It is fitting therefore of this birthday of Zora Neale Hurston, to share a tiny portion of what she shared with the world.

Happy Birthday Zora!!


Bernita said...

What a find! Thanks for sharing this.

Sonia said...

Angela! Thanks for sharing this important part of our history!

Luckie said...

Angela just saw your post via Sonia Walker on Facebook. One of our New Kids, Marci Lamar's Ancestors arrived on the Clotilde & lived in Africa Town. It was actually a part of her BlogFest2014 post. Please visit her blog. There might be insight you can share -- http://mglamar.wordpress.com


Bernita said...

Angela, the video is amazing. Thank you for sharing it. Fitting acknowledgement on Zora's birthday!

Angela Y. Walton-Raji said...

I shall go and visit her blog, thanks.

Unknown said...

Hi Angela thank your sharing. It is always a pleasure to read or see the history of my family and the area where I came from being shared with others. I loved the video ..

hecain said...

Great post, Angela! I have a photo of Cudjoe Lewis that I came across in my research & saved because he lived close to my relatives & might even be related. It's an added bonus to now have some film and more info to go along with the photo!

James said...

Such a great piece of the past. Even the picture of Cudjoe is special relic.

zedsmiles said...

Unfortunately the video will not play. Has it been removed from Youtube? I

Thank you sharing this story, though.