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January 04, 1853

On this date:
Solomon Northup ~ freed after 12 years of servitude as a slave (Category : People)
Posted by:
default, on 1/4/2011
Solomon Northup

The following essay is copyrighted and submitted by a DayInBlackHistory.com contributor (T.O.).  It describes Northup's story based on the movie titled: Half Slave Half Free.

 

Injustices of Slavery in Half Slave Half Free

            Half Slave/Half Free is a movie based on the true autobiographical story, Twelve Years a Slave, by Solomon Northrup.  He was a free black man in Saratoga Springs, New York, where he lived with his wife Anne and their children.  In 1841, Anne left to work in a kitchen for some weeks, while, unknowingly to her, Solomon made a deal with two men to play his fiddle for the circus in Washington, D.C.  The two men tricked and captured him into slavery, and he was sent on a ship to New Orleans, Louisiana.  After being severely abused, both physically and emotionally for twelve years, an old white friend from New York finally came to rescue Northrup from his oppressing bondage.  Within the details of Northrup’s time as a slave are several examples of slavery’s wrongs, such as separating him from his family, preventing friendships between slaves, and demeaning his dignity.

            The first event in Solomon Northrup’s twelve years as a slave was detaching him away from his family in New York.  He was forced to sever all ties with his wife and children.  They knew not where he was, or even whether or not he was alive.  Northrup was not allowed to write to them, and was only able to do so when he was lucky enough to be transferred to an extraordinarily sympathetic master.  His case was certainly not alone.  Children were taken away from their parents, no matter how young, and even if they were ill.  This separation from family led Northrup to seek friendships in his new situation, but even these were deterred by the cruelties of slavery.

            As Solomon Northrup grew more and more lonely, he sought friendship in a fellow slave, Jenny.  Their relationship grew more romantic, and when their master noticed this, he sold Jenny to another plantation.  This crushed the both of them until Northrup was sent to the same master as Jenny, Edwin Epps.  Epps was nowhere near as considerate as the man who allowed Northrup to send a letter to his family.  Although he knew of Northrup’s feelings towards her, Epps forced Jenny into relations to him and tried to cut off all contact between the two slaves.  Northrup’s emotions were not only harmed towards others, but his inner feelings were traumatized, as well.

            Before he even arrived in Louisiana, Northrup was first debased when the slave traders renamed him Platt.  This was only the beginning of the deterioration of Northrup’s dignity as his years as a slave continued.  Later, while he was under the servitude of Epps, he was caught simply talking to and playing his fiddle for Jenny.  Epps proceeded in destroying Northrup’s fiddle by smashing it against the trunk of a tree and against the ground.  Furthermore, he addressed the way in which Northrup enunciated his speech.  Epps saw as unbecoming of a slave to articulate his words, and forced the Northrup to don a false Southern accent and use the slang common to the rest of the slaves.  This was a mighty blow to Northrup’s self-respect, seeing that he was a literate and free man from the North.

            When one recalls that this is all a true story written by someone who experienced all of these tribulations, slavery seems all the more appalling.  The great credibility, due to the fact that Twelve Years a Slave was written from the first person perspective, contrasts Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin, which was written by an outsider.  The book, as the movie would have, serves a major element of persuasion in the slavery debate, exploring the cruelties that were condoned in the atrocious institution.

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