I am looking forward to seeing the above listed movie with so many mixed emotions. Even when I read the article below, it took me to a place of trepidation. Though slavery was bad enough, the fact that a free man would be tricked into slavery in this manner is as mind-boggling as it is evil. Check out the article below and tell me what you think. Will you be going to see tis movie?
’12 Years a Slave’ Casts Light on the Dark History of American Slave Hunters
By Meriah Doty
Solomon Northup, played by Chiwetel Ejiofor in “12 Years a Slave,” was not the only free black man in America to be forced into slavery — though he happened to be one of few men, women, or children who, during the mid-1800s, regained freedom on the other end of such an appalling ordeal.
Slave capture was all too common back then, Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. points out. “The further that North and South pulled apart in the antebellum years,” explains Gates, “the more tempting it became for slave catchers to venture north, across state lines, to rob free blacks under the pretense of retrieving fugitive slaves.” (Gates edited a new version of Northup’s 1853 memoir, on which the film is based; he also served as a consultant on the film and recently wrote an essay in honor of its theatrical release.)
As the United States expanded to the West, so did the demand for cheap human labor. It was difficult to meet the ever-growing demand, also because Congress banned the import of African slaves in 1807. Those elements made the hunt for free black Americans, north of the Mason-Dixon line, all the more enticing to slave hunters.
And it was profitable. “His slaves were more valuable than his land, and almost every year his human quarry increased,” writes Daniel J. Sharfstein in “The Invisible Line,” the story of one slave catcher from Kentucky. “When a young man named Henry disappeared one late summer night in 1858, it was as if $1,500 had fallen out of [his] coat.”
Yes, it was illegal, but the practice of kidnapping black Americans into slavery was rarely prosecuted. And even after a lengthy trial, Northup’s own kidnappers were never found guilty.
Slave catchers regularly lied about their crime, according to Gates. They would claim that their victims were runaway slaves, the lawful property of Southern owners, and that they needed to be returned.
Since much of this activity went unchecked, there is no official figure for the number of free blacks who were kidnapped into slavery. “Abolitionists put it in the thousands a year while Harriet Beecher Stowe, the author of ‘Uncle Tom’s Cabin,’ put it in the ‘hundreds… all the time,'” Gates notes. Confederate dragnets captured roughly 1,000 blacks during the Gettysburg campaign alone — largely in areas where slavery had been abolished, according to historian David G. Smith (via the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette).
Those are large numbers — though even one person forced into slavery, living under the constant threat of, or experiencing directly, great physical harm, even death, is too much. But even larger still are the number of slaves who were brought from Africa to the Americas during the 365-year slave trade: 11 million, experts estimate. Slavery was legal when the United States, a supposedly free country, was formed in 1776. And the oppressive, cruel institution lasted for 250 years.
“Like the Holocaust in Europe, their stories cannot be told and retold enough,” Gates says. “While the Unites States received about 400,000 of these Africans shipped directly from the Continent, by the outbreak of the Civil War, their descendants had grown to some four million.”
“12 Years a Slave,” also with Brad Pitt, Michael Fassbender, and Lupita Nyong’o, opens in limited release on Friday and nationwide on November 1.