Nov 052013

Twelve Years a Slave – And Plantation Life in the Antebellum South  is a narrative by Solomon Northup as told to David Wilson. It was published in 1853. As Harriet Beacher Stove’s novel, Uncle Ben’s Cabin (1852) ,Northup’s true story book became a bestseller as well.

Solomon Northup was a married African-American man and father, who was born free in Saratoga Springs, New York, but kidnapped in Washington, D.C. in 1841, sold into slavery, and kept in bondage on major plantations in Louisiana for twelve years – nine of those in Avoyelles Parish (Vincent Simmons’ home parish). Avoyelles judge Ralph Cushman eventually granted Northup’s freedom.

More than 100 years later, Dr. Sue Eakin, a historian, journalist and professor from Bunkie in Avoyelles Parish, re-discovered the book while researching Louisiana’s history. She co-edited the 1853 slave diary by Northup. The LSU Press published it in 1968.   

Audio Book

A 2013 British-American drama film on the story starring among others Chiwetel Ejiofor as Solomon Northup,  Michael Fassbender as Edwin Epps (a cruel plantation owner) and Brad Pitt as Samuel Bass (a Canadian carpenter who is a key player in Northup’s liberation) and directed by Steve McQueen was released by Fox Searchlight Pictures on October 18, 2013. The locations, where the movie was filmed, were in Jefferson Parish and in New Orleans.

Press Conference in Toronto, Canada

The press conference in Toronto, Canada, began with the question if the movie was about race. In response, Director McQueen rolled his eyes and stressed that he had wanted to make a film about slavery since he (and many others who contributed to this project) was a part of that history. It is not just about race. It is beyond that. He made clear that race was just involved – it was just a part of it.

Protagonist Ejiofor expressed it simply: It is about human dignity. The leading actors of 12 Years A Slave agreed that the story is very complex. It is beyond clichés. One cannot judge in black and white. It is about love and pain. Every one of the audience probably can identify with something or someone.

Basically, there is no difference between being a slave (Solomon Northup), who was born free, then kidnapped and sold into slavery, and being a prisoner (Vincent Simmons) for a crime he did not commit. Both the slave and the prisoner have illegally lost their freedom and are victims of  a system that is terribly manipulated by money interests. Slavery is the past – prison industry is the present.


Read about the first Northup Freedom Fest (November 2, 2014) in Marksville at

This article of the local Avoyelles Today might interest the historian or tourist in you:
Renovated Epps House dedicated at LSU-A

Jun 042011

Why is law not a subject in school as, for instance, a nation’s official language, math, and history? We have to obey the law, but we are not taught the law. We have duties and rights, but we frequently do not know them. The science of law is still a closed book to the majority of all people worldwide. The internet is a great library and one can look up laws online, but who does it?

I served as a witness in civil court a few days ago. When I attended the hearing, the judge said to one of the parties that it is not a court’s or its staff’s job to inform people about the law. He was right. But who teaches us what we are supposed to know? Nobody asked this question. Everyone present probably understood that there are lawyers to consult.

Of course, one could boost legal businesses by running to law firms each time one wants to inquire about technicalities. But who can afford that? Would it not be better to learn the basics about our legal system in school – before the first students drop out? They, in particular, will very likely not be able to pay an attorney’s hourly wage in the future.

Time limitations to file this and that in court, and how to file it “correctly,” i.e. according to the law, is essential to know. Because, if you are right but not paying attention to the technicalities or “rules,” most judges will hold your ignorance against you and deny your cause. That is the paradox.

The judge agreed that the gap between the law and humane justice or morals can be very big, but he explained that his job is to apply the law. Bureaucracy complicates a lot at times, and it does not always make sense, let alone justice.


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