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.
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 http://vincentsimmons.iippi.org/2014/10/30/freedom-fest/
This article of the local Avoyelles Today might interest the historian or tourist in you:
Renovated Epps House dedicated at LSU-A
The number of faces behind bars is increasing everywhere on the globe. Due to the collapsing penal system in the USA, the government is forced to enact laws that provide for the early release of elder, non-violent offenders. Yet, those released individuals remain on probation and, therefore, in the system. The higher the prison population rate (per 100,000 of national population), the more likely innocent inmates are confined. Louisiana alone is the prison “nation” number one.
When one compares the U.S. states with each other, and the USA with other countries (the poor and the rich), one realizes that the incarceration rate is not only the consequence of crime, politics and the lack of equalization of wealth, but it is also a matter of culture. The social focus in the USA is the South, once known for plantations and slavery. Nowadays, it is still the “Bible belt” that clings to the death penalty. Its “correctional” facilities on large grounds and the often brown and black people in prison clothes working the fields remind of old times.
Especially in rural areas where jobs are rare, each employee at local jails or the Department of Corrections, their families and friends enhance the lobby of the prison industry. They need convicted people to make a living and they cannot have an interest in a decrease of the prison population. Better basic education in the country and more alternative jobs would improve the chance for innocent prisoners to be heard and listened to by voters, and thus, by politicians as judges, district attorneys, sheriffs, legislators and governors.
The Innocent in Prison Project International (IIPPI) compiled information from the U.S. Census 2010, the Bureau of Justice Statistics, and the International Centre for Prison Studies. Today, on July 10, 2011, IIPPI provides and illustrates the data in graphics. Read on at http://www.iippi.org/pdf/population_poverty_prisoners_usa2011_statistics.pdf .
The U.S. Census of 2010 published a map on January 6, 2014, which shows how many prisoners are housed in each of the counties (Louisiana: parishes) throughout the USA. Go to http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/special/business/prisoners/index.html?template=iframe
The World Incarceration Rate graphic of 2014 by the Prison Policy might interest you as well. It does not necessarily mean that other countries or nations are more “human” than the USA (several are definitely not!), but this graphic by the Prison Policy gives a feeling of how many people are incarcerated by (U.S.) state compared to all other countries in the world. Go to the site, click on the graphic to enlarge, and see it all! Go to www.prisonpolicy.org/global/
Here is another data point: the incarceration of women in the USA and its global context. “Only 5% of the world’s female population lives in the U.S., but the U.S. accounts for nearly 30% of the world’s incarcerated women.”
Update of February 2015:
Report by the VERA Institute of Justice: “Incarceration’s Front Door: The Missuse of Jails in America”
Report by the Brennan Center for Justice: “Louisiana Fact Sheet-What Caused The Crime Decline?”
Law Professor Bill Quigley at the Loyola University New Orleans names 40 reasons why minorities are mayorities in jails and prisons. (June 2, 2015)
How Germany does Prison – Americans on a mind-boggling incarceration road trip. (from June 16th through June 21st 2015)
This might interest you as well: Routine Character Assassination of Innocents