Millions of Americans will soon see the poignant story of a man who was ripped from his family in the 1800s and brutalized by a vicious slaveholder before finally breaking free. It’s important to remember that the events depicted in 12 Years a Slave are still happening today.
Slavery didn’t end with the Civil War or the Emancipation Proclamation. It was outlawed, but not ended. There are 21-30 million people trapped in various forms of modern slavery around the world today, about 60,000 of them right here in the United States. Human trafficking is the modern-day slave trade.
If you see the film 12 Years a Slave, as the closing credits roll and you’re walking out of the theater, please remember that today’s slavery victims need a helping hand just as Solomon Northup did more than a century ago.
The movie is based on a real story. Northup was a literate, free African-American living in upstate New York. He was tricked by a slaver who had promised good work, then kidnapped and trafficked to the South. Northup returned to freedom with the assistance of anti-slavery activists who helped his family assert his legal rights.
Anti-slavery groups like Free the Slaves are doing the same thing today. There are millions of impoverished men, women and children who are easy prey for traffickers. They take risks that frequently lead to enslavement: such as traveling far from home to find a job, or borrowing money for a family emergency and promising to work the loan off at a farm, mine, brick kiln, logging camp or factory.
Although slavery is illegal everywhere today, many in slavery do not know how to stand up for their rights. With community awareness and organizing projects, vulnerable villagers can break free, stay free, and prevent others from falling into slavery in the future. The Free the Slaves model of building community resistance to slavery is succeeding in some of the world’s hottest hotspots for trafficking: Haiti, India, Nepal, Ghana, Congo and Brazil. You can see how our programs work on the frontline partners page of the Free the Slaves website.
The resonance of 12 Years a Slave is that Northop went on to write his own story when he returned to freedom. His book became a bestseller in 1853, and helped build the case for abolition. It proved that the fictional depiction of southern slavery in Uncle Tom’s Cabin was accurate.
Frederick Douglass said this about 12 Years A Slave: “Its truth is far greater than fiction.” (Historical footnote: Northup’s manuscript was actually lost, until it was recovered by historian Sue Eakin.)
Today, slavery survivors are also at the forefront of the modern abolition movement. You can read interview transcripts with modern slavery survivors, and watch videos about survivors who have become anti-slavery activists, on the Free the Slaves website.
If you’re not a movie-watching type, you can download the audiobook of 12 Years a Slave, narrated by Louis Gossett Jr. Free the Slaves receives 20 percent of the proceeds from audio book downloads.
If you see the 12 Years a Slave movie, or listen to the audio book, complete the experience by making a commitment to do something. Help us finish what Solomon Northup, Frederick Douglass, Abraham Lincoln and the abolitionists of the 1800s started. Let’s actually end slavery. Finally. Forever. For everyone, everywhere.