I have finally gotten around to reading the book “12 Years a Slave” by Solomon Northrup. I have only seen snippets of the movie on YouTube…now I know why it earned an Oscar. The book is mighty compelling. It is a tale of horror and survival. Solomon Northrup was a free black man living peacefully and comfortably with his wife and children in Saratoga New York. He was hoodwinked into joining some entertainers who promised him a pretty good salary for those days. Tragically, they drugged him and he wound up chained in a dungeon…in Washington DC…on Pennsylania Avenue.
He was forced onto a ship from Norfolk to New Orleans. Along the way he met a number of other slaves, male and female, old and young. The tale of Eliza is without a doubt one of the most heartwrenching and horrifying tales I have read. She is on board the slave ship with her two young children, Randall and Emily. While they are on the auction block in New Orleans, little Randall is sold to a master, but Eliza is left behind with Emily. The scene in the book absolutely destroys me. Just when I thought it could not get worse (and undoubtedly it does later in the book and the movie) I read this about another master buying the mother, but unable to buy little Emily to go along. (The man owning the two will not sell little Emily because he knows she will get a higher price when she gets older.)
“I have seen mothers kissing for the last time the faces of their dead offspring; I have seen them looking down into the grave, as the earth fell with a dull sound upon their coffins, hiding them from their eyes forever; but never have I seen such an exhibition of intense, unmeasured, and unbounded grief, as when Eliza was parted from her child. She broke from her place in the line of women, and rushing dwon where Emily was standing, caught her in her arms. The child, sensible of some impending danger, instinctively fastened her hands around her mother’s neck, and nestled her little head upon her bosom. Freeeman [the slave owner] sternly ordered her to be quiet, but she did not heed him. He caught her by the arm and pulled her rudely, but she only clung the closer to the child. Then, with a volley of great oaths, he struck her such a heartless blow, that she staggered backward, and was like to fall. Oh! how did she beseech and beg and pray that they might not be separated. Why could they not be purchased together? Why not let her have one of her dear children? ‘Mercy, mercy, master!’ she cried, falling on her knees. ‘Please, master, buy Emily. I can never work any if she is taken from me: I will die.’
Emily was taken from her.