12 Years a Slave

Do you ever read a book and want to run back and hurl it at your high school teachers (or that person who creates the curriculum)? To be fair, there’s only so much time in a school year…but when I look back on what we studied, versus what we COULD have read…there’s so many holes in our discussions.

We learned about slavery in American history, sure. And, yeah, we watched Roots. But why in the WORLD did we not read 12 Years a Slave?

Don’t get me wrong–I’m not discrediting Alex Haley here. Roots is still an extremely valuable and eye-opening piece of Black History. However, these are two very different time periods and situations and we should have been exposed to MORE.

Solomon Northup was born a free man in Saratoga, and was a successful “jack of all trades.” He had a wife and two daughters, and lived a happy, fulfilling life. That is, until one night he fell very ill and disoriented. When he came to, it was too late–he had been kidnapped by slave traders, his papers were destroyed, and he was shipped to Louisiana. 12 Years a Slave is the memoirs of his awful experience.

You know, I’m thinking as I’m writing this, and the two men weren’t all that different. Kunta Kinte and Solomon Northup were both free. Both were captured and shipped to different places where the culture was completely different, to do unfamiliar work, and beaten almost to death because they wanted to keep their name.

Still, I think seeing Northup captured from our own country and having his freedom stripped gives a very shocking wakeup call. I remember, in history class, there being this naive idea that once Harriet Tubman got her flock across some invisible line, they were forever free with no trouble ever again. 12 Years a Slave proves how wrong this misconception is.

Northup’s story is extremely moving and thoughtfully written. It’s not easy to read, looking back on history like that–but it SHOULD make us uncomfortable to look back at the terrors of our history. That’s how we move forward and have any chance of making things better for the future.



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