Home is not a little thing,” Toni Morrison wrote in her novel Paradise, a chronicle of, among many things, the search for home—a haven from the racism and violence of the post–Civil War South—by a group of 158 formerly enslaved people from Mississippi and Louisiana.1 To their descendants they bequeath a story of fortitude but also the rejection and ridicule they endured on the journey, of being mocked by “rich Choctow and poor whites, chased by yard dogs, jeered by camp prostitutes and their children.” Most painful, perhaps, was the “contemptuous dismissal” and “aggressive discouragement they received from Negro towns already being built.”2

Zora Neale Hurston’s Barracoon: The Story of the Last “Black Cargo” is similarly a powerful story about the search for home and the meaning of home. “I’m not sure there was ever a harder read...

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