Sylviane Anna Diouf

Historian of the African Diaspora

Osman, the maroon in the swamp

My ancestor's mosque built in 1611 in Pire, Senegal

Tromelin, Indian Ocean, home of the shipwrecked Africans

Ruins of the houses

Cudjo Lewis at the UN

March 30, 2009

Tags: Cudjo, United Nations

On March 25, the United Nations commemorated the second International Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Slavery and the Slave Trade. A series of events was held from the 24 to the 26 at the UN headquarters in New York. The theme was “Breaking the Silence, Beating the Drum.”

The words that defined the commemoration and tied all events were those told by Cudjo Lewis to Zora Neale Hurston 81 years ago. “After dey free us, you understand me, we so glad, we make de drum and beat it lak in de Affica soil.”

They were printed on the cover of the program and repeated throughout the brochure; they were prominently displayed, with Cudjo’s photograph, in the accompanying exhibition; they were spoken at the opening of the concert that gathered, among others, The Blind Boys of Alabama, Akon, Whoopi Goldberg, Phylicia Rashad, ER and The Shield actress CCH Pounder, sprinter Carl Lewis, Bob Marley’s son Ky-Mani Marley, Salif Keita, Toumani Diabate and Tony award winning playwright Sarah Jones.

It was a moving moment for me to see Cudjo Lewis and his companions enter the United Nations. During a briefing on the 26, I showed an international audience the short film Zora Neale Hurston shot in 1928 of a then 87-year-old Cudjo. It is the only moving image of an African deported through the Transatlantic Slave Trade that exists in the entire Western Hemisphere.

As I signed copies of Dreams of Africa at the UN Bookstore, I saw how much the story touched a wide diversity of people.

From wherever they are, I hope Cudjo, Zuma, Albine, Pollee and the others savored the moment.


  1. March 31, 2009 3:31 PM EDT
    What a moving tribute, not only to Cudjo Lewis, but to all the courageous people who endured the Middle Passage and enslavement in this country.
    Congratulations, Sylviane!
    - Gayla Jamison
  2. May 14, 2009 4:41 PM EDT
    Greetings, I read Dreams of Africa. I am a Black American sculptor and reading your wonderfully written account- altered the direction of my work. I am sincerely indebted to your scholarship and humanity. Thank you.
    - Phoenix Savage
  3. January 23, 2012 10:34 AM EST
    This is a very informative blog on Slave ships in Alabama. It points to a time in history that is sometime very painful, but very true and very necessary.
    - Carlotta Maria Shinn-Russell
  4. June 5, 2012 10:38 AM EDT
    Thanks for this post and your wonderful book that helped acquaint so many of us ignorant white Alabamians with such a profoundly important part of our people's history.
    - Jack R. Bergstresser, Sr.
  5. December 3, 2012 5:22 AM EST
    Ms. Diouf,

    I'm currently reading your book titled Servants of Allah. Is there another way I can email you? I will really like to discuss something with you.
    - Anonymous
  6. January 31, 2014 6:20 AM EST
    I am a descendent from a family raised in Africatown from approximently 1915-1958. My grandfather was name Harris Gibson and he ran away from home when he was 13 years old, his mother died when he was a infant and his father could not raise him. He was sent to live with whites, he slept in horrible conditions, and was treated poorly. Some other boys in the neighborhood got together and decided to run away. They hopped trains during the night until they were in this place called African Town. There he was taken in and raised by loving people. He later married a beautiful women a Maudie Mae Gibson and they had seven childen. My grandfather opened a bike shop called Gibson's Bike Shop and had a great life. Thank you, Africatown
    - Rachelle Gibson
  7. January 31, 2014 12:18 PM EST
    Hi I just spoke with my father Owen Gibson who was raised in Africa town From 1925 to 1958, born in Plato. Referred. Cudjo Lewis as uncle, recalls some moments with great man. My father will be 89years in March 2014.
    - Rachelle Gibson
  8. July 19, 2014 12:18 PM EDT
    I'm so excited to read Dreams of Africa in Alabama: The Slave Ship Clotilda and the Story of the Last Africans Brought to America. Just ordered it on Amazon. From the excerpt I read it ties in wonderfully with the two books my grandmother, Mable Dennison, wrote: A Memoir of Lottie Dennison and Biographical Memoirs of James Dennison. I vividly remember my grandmother telling amazing stories about Cudjoe Lewis.
    - Jaret Dennison
  9. October 12, 2014 1:42 AM EDT
    We'd like to do something about the exhibition - can you email me at the bbd
    - mark savage
  10. October 13, 2014 11:28 AM EDT
    Mark Savage, please contact me through my Contact page.
    - Sylviane DIouf


In a tale worthy of a novelist, Sylviane Diouf provides a well-researched, nicely written, and moving account of the last slave ship to America, whose 110 captives arrived in Mobile in 1860 and, after the war, created their dream of Africa in Alabama. Howard Jones, author of Mutiny on the Amistad
The first book on the American maroons' experience
A major book on the various components of the Black Power movement, with photos, essays and testimonies.
The fascinating story of the East Africans who distinguished themselves in India
Thorough and ambitious. William and Mary Quarterly
Readers are presented with a wide range of evidence to show how Africans fought against slavery as well as the slave trade. Canadian Journal of History
A groundbreaking look at [the] bigger picture has been unveiled in a project called "In Motion: The African-American Migration Experience." The Washington Post
Children's Books
Bintou’s hair is short and fuzzy, but she wants beautiful braids “with gold coins and seashells” like the big girls, but everyone says no. The New York Times
Young readers will enjoy this fascinating look at [some] brave leaders. Children's Literature
Destroys the stereotype of the happy, ignorant slave child. Booklist

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