Cudjoe Kazoola Lewis: Last known survivor of Atlantic slave trade

AJC Sepia Black History Month


The firsts in black history — Jackie Robinson, Barack Obama, Mae Jemison — are easy to find.

The lasts are a little more difficult.

Take Cudjoe Kazoola Lewis.

In 1860, 53 years after Congress banned the import of Africans to the United States for the purpose of slavery, 20-year-old Cudjoe was one of about 110 people stolen from West Africa to be sold into bondage.

The Clotilde, which landed in Mobile, Ala., was the last U.S. slave ship — and Cudjoe was among the last cargo. Because it was illegal to import slaves, the owners of the Clotilde burned the ship upon arriving in Mobile. They dispersed and hid the Africans across different plantations in Mobile.

While they couldn’t be legally be classified as slaves, the Africans were nonetheless treated as chattel until they were freed at the end of the Civil War in 1865. Although they were never able to return home, the Africans stayed together and established a community north of Mobile called Africatown.

Cudjoe emerged as the community and spokesman. His story was told in several magazines and books. Folklorist Zora Neale Hurston even filmed an interview with him. Hurston’s film is believed to be the only known footage of a former slave who survived the slave trade.

When Cudjoe died in Mobile in 1935 – a year after the birth of Mobile native Hank Aaron — at the age of 95, he was the last known survivor of the Transatlantic Slave Trade.

Celebrate Black History Month

Throughout February, we’ll spotlight a different African-American pioneer in the daily Living section Monday through Thursday and Saturday. Go to myAJC.com/black-history-month for more subscriber exclusives on people, places and organizations that have changed the world, and to see videos on the African-American pioneer featured here each day.



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