12 Years a Slave by Solomon Northup

twelve-years-a-slave-book-cover-0112 Years a Slave

by Solomon Northup

I was not aware of this book until it was mentioned in a section about slavery in a book I’m reading with my kids about U.S. History.  I knew there had been an Academy Award winning  movie by the same name a couple of years ago, which I have not seen, but I wasn’t aware that the movie was based on a slaves narrative about the years he spent in bondage.  I’m not sure what compelled me to read this, except that as an American, and especially as a white American, I do feel a deep sense of responsibility to try to know and understand the brutal reality of slavery in America, and how that ugly past continues to influence and shape the present.

Solomon Northup was born a free black man in the early part of the nineteenth century.  His parents were a freed slave and a black woman who was born free.  Solomon, a carpenter and talented violinist, married Anne, a free black woman, and together they had three children and went about living as hardworking, respectable citizens in Saratoga Springs, New York.  One day, Solomon was approached by two white men and offered temporary work as a fiddler for a circus in Washington D.C.  Believing it would be a short trip, he didn’t bother sending word to his wife, who was away working as a cook in a hotel.  Once in Washington D.C. – the capital of the country that lauded freedom and liberty, which did not escape Solomon – he was drugged, shackled, and sold into slavery, his papers evidencing his status as a free man, stolen.  When he insisted he was a free man, he was beaten almost to death for his efforts.

Sold into the deep south, Solomon Northup spent twelve years as a slave, under three different masters, one benevolent (as much as a person who believes in the institution of slavery can be benevolent), and the other two brutal.  For twelve years, he existed under the mental and physical torture of slavery, always pining for a way back to his wife, children, and his freedom.

That he was eventually rescued is a miracle, as many, many free blacks were kidnapped and sold into slavery, and very, very few of them ever saw freedom again.

This is another raw look at the heinous things human beings are capable of inflicting on other human beings, and the twisted beliefs that make those acts possible.  A must read.