Black History Month: 12 Years a Slave- Solomon Northrup

“Now had I approached within the shadow of the cloud, into the thick darkness whereof I was soon to disappear, thenceforward to be hidden from the eyes of all my kindred, and shut out from the sweet light of liberty for many a weary year.”

I’m embarrassed to say  I had no idea that this was a true story. I find it odd that I’d never heard of this particular slave narrative, given how powerful and informative it is.  I decided to read it after all the media frenzy surrounding the movie (which I haven’t watched and probably won’t).

This narrative was written by Solomon Northrup, a freeman kidnapped from the North, and  taken to a work on a plantation in Louisiana, where he lived for 12 years until he was rescued.  The whole account was very detailed; we are given names, dates and so on. There are also graphic depictions of violence and plenty of sadness and grief.

The more  stories about slavery that I read, the more I realize what a diversity in stories and experiences exist. There are always common themes though: the brutality of the slavedrivers who don’t get their comeuppance, for one,  and the injustice of the whole system too. The fact that the slaves were treated as less than animals is something that makes these kinds of stories difficult to read.

I was expecting to be more affected by the  pain and violence that I knew slaves experienced at the hands of their masters. However, I found myself more affected by the psychological pain that they had to endure. Coincidentally, I just read a poem by African-Canadian poet Dwayne Morgan entitled “The Academy Awards” which goes:

“And you don’t know the psychological

And spiritual trauma,

Of constantly having to justify your existence,

Your location and your presence.”

I  felt quite ignorant about American history while reading this narrative; I was unaware that there was a time when some blacks were free while others were enslaved.

As difficult as it is for me to read anything related to slavery I believe it is important for stories like this one to be heard. I’m in awe at how much resilience African-American slaves showed.

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6 thoughts on “Black History Month: 12 Years a Slave- Solomon Northrup

  1. I definitely want to read this. I knew about the freemen vs. slaves, but I’d never heard of this either. I don’t know how anyone survived slavery. I never would have, I know that.

  2. Beloved was a book which hit me the most out of all books I have ever read. And it is probably going to stay that way.
    And I will probably not watch the movie and read this book instead. Excellent, thought-provoking review Rowena.

  3. I’ve read very little African-American literature to date, but Frederick Douglass’s Narrative of a Life is one of my favorite books. He was incredibly courageous. To read his story so inspires me. I definitely want to read Northrup as well.

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