Dr. Deborah Plant on Zora Neale Hurston’s Barracoon: The Story of the Last “Black Cargo”

This week on The Learning Curve, Gerard and guest cohost Daiana Lambrecht, Senior Director of Parent Leadership and Advocacy at Rocketship Public Schools, interview Dr. Deborah Plant, editor of the 2018 book Barracoon: The Story of the Last “Black Cargo” by Zora Neale Hurston. Dr. Plant discusses Hurston’s work as an anthropologist that told the story of one of the last survivors of the infamous Middle Passage. To mark Black History Month, she explores, through Hurston’s interviews with Oluale Kossola (Cudjo Lewis), the enslavement and displacement of native West Africans over 50 years after the slave trade was outlawed in the U.S. Dr. Plant discusses enslaved Africans striving for education, freedom, and community in the U.S., and the importance for American schoolchildren today learning about and remembering these stories. She closes the interview with a reading from Barracoon.

Stories of the Week

Daiana discussed a New York Times article, “Education Issues Vault to Top of the G.O.P.’s Presidential Race” that illustrates how partisanship and culture wars are detracting from the conversation about classroom trends. As the 2024 election approaches, she notes a need to hear parents’ voices and underscore the importance of school choice. Gerard cited a partnership between the College of William and Mary and Colonial Williamsburg to highlight the Williamsburg Bray School, founded in 1760 to educate Black children. The school, he noted, illustrates the resistance, resilience, and endurance of the Black community in that era, and gives a “window into their lives beyond slavery.”


Dr. Deborah Plant is an African American and Africana Studies independent scholar, writer, and literary critic specializing in the life and works of Zora Neale Hurston. She is editor of the New York Times bestseller Barracoon: The Story of the Last “Black Cargo”by Zora Neale Hurston. Dr. Plant is also editor of The Inside Light: New Critical Essays on Zora Neale Hurston, and the author of Zora Neale Hurston: A Biography of the Spiritand Every Tub Must Sit On Its Own Bottom: The Philosophy and Politics of Zora Neale Hurston. She was instrumental in founding the University of South Florida’s Department of Africana Studies and in the development of its graduate program. She holds a B.A. degree in Fine Arts from Southern University (Baton Rouge), a M.A. degree in French from Atlanta University, and M.A. and Ph.D. degrees in English from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

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Published in: Education, History, Podcasts