I just finished reading 12 Years a Slave by Solomon Northup. Wow. Considering that in 10 of the 12 years of public education there is class work for American History, it strikes me as remarkable that this book was not required reading.
One thought that stood out in the reading was that as a slave you were not permitted even the small comfort of a family. Every day spent with a husband or child could literally be the last. The master could choose to sell them or you without any regard for the concept of family. Taking into account the widespread Christianity of the owners you would think a small part of them would balk at such a glaring breach. It's amazing that they pretended that slaves married at all, and didn't just order relations between the strongest of the male slaves with all the available women. Let's not even delve into the relations between owners and slaves. All mixed children being slaves means only that men were willing to sell their children. Gross.
Let's pretend that it is possible to wave a magic wand and take the situation as described and just change the law. Monday slavery to Tuesday outlawed. Can you imagine being one of the slaves - Patsey for instance, what do you do? Clearly staying on the Epps farm is unimaginable. But where do you go? You lack the education necessary to start a business. You are mentally and emotionally scarred from your experiences and probably not eager to walk into a store and ask a white man for a job. By leaving the farm you leave your home, belongings, co-workers, etc. Despite working your whole life you have nothing to show for it, no savings account, no network, no support system. It's just a mess.
Could you imagine living every day for 12 years with the knowledge of your rightful freedom, while suffering the degradation of slavery? I don't think I could have kept the secret as well as Solomon did. Do you think that Ford would have helped him? Then again looking at it from Fords perspective, here he is just bought a new slave for a rather handsome amount of money, and this slave says joke's on you - you're out the money because really I'm a free man. That would be a tough thing to be reasonable about.
In the end this book gave me a lot of things to think about - and I can't wait to discuss it again with my book club next month. I would definitely recommend reading this book - and if you home school your kids you should add it to the required reading list!