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