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udjo Lewis is remembered as the end of a dark era within American history for being the last known slave brought from Africa to America. Abraham Lincoln, the 16th president of the United States played an important role in ending slavery in North America during the 19th century. However, until that point, the Congress of America decided on a smaller step toward stopping slavery.

On March 2nd, 1807, Congress banned the purchase of slaves from Africa, and the law came into force on January 1, 1808. Cudjo Lewis is the last known slave, who came to the United States with the last illegal transportation of slaves from Africa. Over time, he saw his whole life changing in ways he could not imagine. He was taken from his homeland Africa, made a slave, and later freed again, but his existence was limited.

Life before slavery

Cudjo Lewis was born in 1840, in the African village of Benin. At that time he was called Kossola, and he had no less than 17 brothers, all of whom belonged to the Yoruba ethnic group, one of the largest on the continent. At the age of 14, Kossola began training to become a fighter and eventually became a member of the secret men’s organization within the local region. It was an important achievement for a boy his age, who would usually seek advice and approval from the elders. At the age of 19, he was initiated to become a full member of his tribe, becoming more respected in the community.

Kossola’s training was unexpectedly interrupted when their village was invaded by soldiers from the neighboring town, Dahomey. They killed and imprisoned several members of the community. He was one of the 115 Africans who were taken to the port of Ouidah, a port in the Atlantic, where all were sold to the captain of a ship that illegally carried slaves. For 45 days as he went along, he found out what awaits him in the future, as a slave.

Africatown

When he finally reached the United States, he was sold to a certain Mr. James from Mobile, Alabama. Because Mr. James could not pronounce Kossola in the native African language, his new master called him Cudjo. The Civil War began just a year after his arrival and had to endure a few more years of slavery until he was released in 1865 when slavery was made illegal within America.

Then, uncertain about the future and not knowing the way home, Cudjo and other free slaves laid the foundations for communities near Mobile, called Africatown. Although it was an isolated place, many of the newly arrived Africans took refuge here.

Alabama port circa the 1800s (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

They desperately wanted to return to Africa and began to raise money to buy a ticket to Africa. But no matter how hard they tried, the price was too high. In the first phase, members of the community delegated Cudjo to beg his former master to give them the money needed to buy their own land. He refused, so they decided to work hard to succeed. After several years of hard work, Cudjo managed to buy 2 acres of land in Mobile for $ 100.

Cudjo Lewis in his house from Africatown (Source: Encyclopedia of Alabama)

Africatown was more than a place where former slaves hid. It had become a community of its own, with its own rules, its own dialect a community based on traditional African values. Together, they laid the foundations of a school and a church.

Cudjo Lewis and his family (Source: Encyclopedia of Alabama)

At the beginning of the 20th century, Cudjo began to tell the story of some writers who wanted to write about him and to give the world the story of one of the last African slaves in American territory. In 1925, Cudjoe was recognized as the last survivor of the Clotilde ship, the ship with which he was transported to America, being included in several specialized works.

Also, in 1927, he was interviewed and photographed by Nora Neale Hurston.

Cudjo died on July 17, 1935, and is buried in the Africatown Cemetery. Let Within Alabama, Cudjo is a very important symbol to the black communities for being one of the last of their ancestors to face the hardships of slavery and rise toward human equality.

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