Today we’ll learn about the historical accuracy of the movie 12 Years a Slave with Professor Greg Jackson from the History That Doesn’t Suck podcast.
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Dan LeFebvre: [00:02:07] Before diving into some details, even though I never got the sense from the movie that it changed any of the names or places or anything like that. I also know a lot of times movies do that sort of thing. So let’s start with the who, when and where in the movie first there’s the who. The main character in the movie, of course is Solomon Northup.
He’s played by Chiwetel Ejiofor, if I pronounced that correctly, I had to look that one up…
Greg Jackson: [00:02:35] I’m impressed.
Dan LeFebvre: [00:02:37] …And we find out pretty quickly that Solomon is a very accomplished violinist, and then there’s his wife and his two children, Margaret and Alonzo. As for when and where. The only bit of texts that we see in the movie is the beginning where it tells us the years, 1841 and it’s in Saratoga, New York.
Of course, the movie also makes it clear that. That’s where Solomon is from, but it’s not necessarily where he spent his years as a slave. In fact, I don’t even remember the movie ever mentioning in any of the dialogue or anything. I was listening for it and I don’t remember him. Them saying, this is actually where we’re at.
It really only just mentioned it as the South. How well did the movie do capturing the overall essence of the true events,
Greg Jackson: [00:03:26] The overall essence was quite good. In fact, I’m going to say that’s the movie’s greatest strength. There are definitely some liberties taken, and you know, that’s going to happen.
I don’t like to be the historian who just slams a movie. I had a colleague when I was teaching part time at a Westminster College in Salt Lake, who used to say, historians are just the worst crowd of people that ever take to the movies, right? We just no ability to enjoy a film.
So I never want to be that guy. I guess all I’m saying is I appreciate that some of the liberties are taken are because it’s really hard to tell, you know, an entire autobiography in a two hour film. It’s on a screen, you know, the medium is messing things up. But the overall essence is really quite good.
We’ll get into some of the specifics and some of the things that made me. Do my historian cringe of, “Oh, that’s not quite right,” but you know, if I were to give an a grade to it, right, put on my professor cap here, I’d give it. It’s either a really strong B plus or you know, maybe even an A minus. Really quite well done in terms of the overall essence.
Dan LeFebvre: [00:04:39] That’s really good. And I liked the way you phrased that. I’ve had some, historians come on the show and they’d be like, I have to take the day off when I go see a movie.
Greg Jackson: [00:04:50] It’s really unfortunate that I don’t think we do a good enough of a job reminding ourselves in the public sphere, or even you training people in school to remember when it comes out of Hollywood, we’re enjoying art.
Just like, I’m not going to look at a painting and think, “Wow, this is a photo from a historical event, right?” It’s interpretation and it’s often altered a bit to speak to present realities. So anyhow, I like to keep all those things in mind and just enjoy it for what it is.
Dan LeFebvre: [00:05:18] Sure that makes sense.
Now, according to the movie, Solomon, North of is hired by two men named Mr. Brown and Mr. Hamilton. They say they run a circus and they hire him to go to Washington where he’s been in play the violin for their show or something like a circus. When he gets there. Mr. Brown and Mr. Hamilton treat Solomon to an elegant dinner. Plenty of alcohol. Solomon drinks, little bit too much passes out, and then when he wakes up, he’s in chains.
And then his captors show up. The captors that show up aren’t Mr. Brown and Mr. Hamilton anymore. It’s someone else, and they try to convince Solomon that he’s not a free man. They beat him as they try to get Solomon to admit that he’s a runaway slave from Georgia. Of course. Solomon doesn’t want to admit this because, he’s not right?
Greg Jackson: [00:06:09] It’s not true. It’s not true.
Dan LeFebvre: [00:06:11] Right. But he doesn’t have any of the paperwork. They stole paperwork that he must’ve had on me. You know, I was reaching into his pockets, trying to find the paperwork to prove otherwise, and he doesn’t have that. So the men take him and a bunch of others that we can only assume have gone through the same sort of thing.
They’re taken on a riverboat. Somewhere. This is leading back to what I mentioned earlier. It doesn’t really tell us exactly where they’re headed, but the impression that I got was essentially they were, that was why he was going from New York to Washington was because it was easier somehow for the kidnappers to take them from Washington.
I’m assuming maybe on the Potomac, on the East coast to the Southern United States. I’m just assuming that from the geography rather than something that the movie mentioned. But how well did the movie do showing how Solomon was kidnapped and then sold into slavery?
Greg Jackson: [00:07:08] I was really pleased with this. Now we are going to talk about some liberties here cause there were definitely some taking, but again to the idea of the essence, the essence was all right.
They did trick him out of New York because of course, New York is a free state and it’s a lot harder for them to capture him there. And you know, basically, I mean, there’s no two ways about it. This was human trafficking. That’s what was going on. And the simple fact of the matter is that with slavery being permitted in the Southern States at this point, you know, it was legal to human traffic.
I think that’s a good way to try and convey that in 21st century terms. So he being a free man, he’s born free. His father had been a slave, I believe in Rhode Island, but Solomon himself was born free living this, this life as a free man in the state of New York. You can kind of see how removed he even was.
Not to say he’s not aware of slavery. Of course he is. Right. And he, you undoubtedly, even though it’s not a disgust in his autobiography, can doubtedly faced racism in the North at various times. But. He’s far more trusting than he should be. It doesn’t occur to him that they would be doing something so mischievous.
So they actually go out of their way to really make sure that he trusts them. They actually procure his free papers. He didn’t have any, it wasn’t a huge need in his mind. He just never bothered to get them though. You know, that’s something that he could have done earlier in his life. So all the more reason we think about how nefarious this really is, that’s.
They took him explicitly to get his free papers before they take him to Washington DC.
Dan LeFebvre: [00:08:46] Wow. Wow. That’s messed up.
Greg Jackson: [00:08:50] Yeah, it’s pretty messed up.
Dan LeFebvre: [00:08:51] I just assumed that he had them because I mean, unfortunately in that time that he would have had them.
Greg Jackson: [00:08:57] Yeah, I know it. It wasn’t something that he had ever bothered to do pretty much because you know, all the way up in the state of New York and in a world without airplanes, you know?
Sure. You’ve got trains. The road is not incredibly robust. It’s not like you can move across the country that swiftly. So this is what I mean by, I have no doubt that as a black American, he had to have. Experiences with racism and slavery certainly had to cross his mind, though none of that’s in the autobiography.
Right. That’s just not part of the scope, but it clearly wasn’t present enough in his mind. He ever bothered to get papers previously, so they get them down to DC and yes, they wine and dine him. One of my issues though with the film, and I’m sure, again, this was a matter of trying to explain things very quickly.
Is that they did depict him as being drunk, and that just simply was not accurate. In fact, Solomon, in his autobiography, if you don’t mind me even quoting my addition, this is from page 13 he says, quote, I did not become intoxicated as may be inferred from what subsequently occurred. Towards evening and soon after partaking of one of these petitions, I began to experience most unpleasant sensations.
I felt extremely ill. my head commenced 18 adore, heavy pain and expressively disagreeable.
Dan LeFebvre: [00:10:16] So they drugged him. He wasn’t drunk, essentially, is what it sounds like.
Greg Jackson: [00:10:19] Yeah. So yeah, not that the film held back by any means on the evils of slavery and the human trafficking that was involved in the interstate slave trade.
But in some ways it’s even worse on this particular thing cause they’re just trying to move so quickly. Right. I mean, they took him to get free papers just to trick them all the more to, you know, really ingredient Gratiot and build trust. And then they didn’t just get him slammed. You know, they didn’t lean on some weakness that he might have for alcohol bats.
That’s not Solomon. This is a pretty sober dude. They drugged him. So yeah, it’s, it’s actually kind of worse, I guess I would say now, the, the beating that happens in the cell, I mean, they take words straight out of the autobiography. So again, a lot of this is done quite well. But then they do, they do move quickly.
We see them load Solomon and other slaves onto a boat. Then any kind of whisks off on a brig. And in reality, there were ferries involved. There were carriages involved, often being moved at night, because even though they’re in the South, what they’re doing is shady. So they pass through Fredericksburg, Virginia, they pass through Richmond, you know, these are major cities.
And you know, he, he’s with a large group of people. At one point, he’s asked by someone in involved in, in their movement, I can’t recall his exact name, but he’s asked where he’s from, and he says, New York and shock registers on this man’s face who clearly doesn’t know that Solomon has been illegally kidnapped.
Then solvent gets the look from one of his, his captors, James Burch. And he, he can read it. Solomon’s a very intelligent man. He could tell I need to dial this back real quick or I’m going to be in trouble. So he starts making it sound like he’s just traveled to New York. And after that verse says, you ever say you’re from New York again?
I’m going to kill you.
Dan LeFebvre: [00:12:01] Oh, wow. When I was watching the movie, the impression that I got was when Solomon is on the boat, that his situation was not unique with that, that everybody on the boat was kidnapped. And. Trafficked essentially from Northern States and sold into slavery in the South. But it sounds like if that person was surprised that he was from New York, that that wasn’t necessarily the case for everybody.
Greg Jackson: [00:12:29] Not for everyone. That wasn’t the experience for everybody being transported with Solomon, but Solomon’s experience was certainly not a complete abnormality. There were others like him who were kidnapped, and he had heard stories of this. You know, almost the impression I get as I read his autobiography.
He mentions as he’s waking up in the cell, starting to think, wait, have I been kidnapped? Am I being taken into slavery? And it’s clear that he’d heard these stories, but it was almost like this, Oh, you know that, but that’ll never happen to me, sort of. Sort of thing, like, you know when people get lazy about wearing a seatbelt?
Just thinking, yeah, well, I mean like I’m going to get in an accident, right? And then, you know, these things happen. So similarly, Solomon, he’s not alone. In fact, Frederick Douglas. Who wrote three autobiographies over the course of his life. He doesn’t give too many details. He doesn’t, as I recall, site specific person, but he mentions that this practice existed and we have no way of even knowing how many free black northerners were kidnapped and taken to the South as slaves.
But. It definitely happened.
Dan LeFebvre: [00:13:37] The first person after Solomon is sold in the movie, he sold to Benedict Cumberbatch, his character, someone named Mr. Ford, and we see him purchase Solomon and a mother named Eliza for a total of $1,700 I think it was a thousand for Solomon and 700 for Lysa. And this is, it’s just, it’s a gut retching scene.
The woman is torn. She has two children, and. Yes. She just crying over the loss of her children that they won’t include them. Right. So they have to separate them. Oh, and I forgot to mention that Solomon is forced to go by the name plat in order to try to cover up that he was in fact, a free man. The overall sense that I got from Benedict Cumberbatch, his character, Mr. Ford in the movie, was that he wasn’t really as mean as some of the others around. He even tries to. Purchase the children so that they can stay together and with Eliza. But then we kind of get this idea that there was a scene where Solomon’s talking with Eliza and, and he’s like, how Mr. Ford is, is treating us differently.
You know? But then Eliza has to remind Solomon that he might be a little bit better, but he still bought us. We’re still slaves. And. We should not be slaves. So it’s kind of a, a two part question here, but first a, were Mr. Ford and Eliza based on real people, and then was there a time when Solomon started to feel almost appreciative for Mr.
Ford before Eliza gave him a reality check?
Greg Jackson: [00:15:16] Sure. Let’s, let’s go ahead and take that question in. It’s two parts. So first off, yes, Mr. Ford and Eliza, these were very real people. And again, in the large essence of the film, a lot of things do stick with the timeline and things that transpired to touch on that gut wrenching scene.
I mean, I cried the first time I saw that I, I’m sure a lot of people do. It’s actually a, and they do this throughout the movie. Again, I’m, I’m sure it’s something that many of filmmaker feels pressed to doing. They truncated what happened into one scene when it was really dragged out. In reality when they’re being sold.
And we’re in Louisiana at this point, when they’re being sold. Randall, who is Eliza’s older son, he was already gone. He had been sold that morning. And, I mean, it’s, it’s hard to read. Dan as he’s being sold away from his mother that morning to, planter from, I believe, Baton Rouge. He turns to his mom and.
Assures her that he will be a good boy and, to not cry and it’s going to be okay. And with that, he disappears from her life. And you know, as Solomon says, you know, I, I have no idea what happened to him. That’s it. There’s no communication.
Dan LeFebvre: [00:16:38] Never see him again. Gone. Yeah. Wow.
Greg Jackson: [00:16:41] So then we get to the afternoon and now Mr. Ford shows up. So her, you know, Eliza son was not even a factor in this. And then Mr. Ford, he tries to keep them together. He offers to buy the daughter. Although Solomon writes that Mr. Ford stated, I have zero purpose in buying the daughter. She, I, I don’t have any role she can serve, you know, economically.
But I don’t want to separate a mother and a daughter. I’m happy to pay you. Fair market value. Essentially. I know these are very uncomfortable terms as we’re discussing human beings for us in the 21st century, but these are the realities and so he, he really tries to buy the daughter. I think the film skips a little bit on this.
It doesn’t quite play. It plays down, if anything, the extent to which Mr. Ford really tried to keep this family together. I, and Mr. Freeman, the very ironically named slay dealer here, Mr. Freeman makes it very clear that he has no interest in selling. And in fact, if I can just go ahead and quote Solomon once more, he says, mr , the man who mr , he hasn’t introduced his name yet in the autobiography, but the man remarked he was not in need of one so young that it would be of no profit to him.
But since the mother was so fond of her, rather than see them separate, he would pay reasonable price. But to this humane proposal, Freeman was entirely deaf. He would not sell her then or on any account, whatever. And the reason for this, Stan, is one of the truly, I mean, slavery is low already, but there are, there are even lower lows within that system.
Then, you know, some other things, she’s going to be basically forced to be a prostitute. If we’re to keep reading Sol and goes on to explain how Mr. Freeman, no, it’s how beautiful the girl is and that that’s why he has no interest in selling her. He’s not going to sell her for years that this little girl will grow up to be very attractive.
And there was a term for this in the enslavement system, these, these women, these girls often, you know, they were known as the fancy girls. I mean, basically there’s just no two ways about it. Freeman was keeping her to sell her as a sex slave at some point.
Dan LeFebvre: [00:19:00] Wow. Just when he thought it couldn’t get worse.
Greg Jackson: [00:19:03] Yeah. And so Mr. Ford, does purchase Eliza basically, you know, I’m not trying to make any sorts of, of excuses, but I’m trying to bring us into this, the reality, the gritty, ugly reality of this, of this economic system. if he doesn’t buy Eliza, it’s not going to help keep that family together. You utilize it was going to be sold that day regardless of anything.
Mr. Ford did. And that and her daughter was going to be kept regardless of anything Mr. Ford could do. So it, it’s really ugly. All right, so they are real people.
Now to the second part of your question, terms of Solomon feeling some sort of appreciation, this is the most inaccurate part of the entire film is the way that Mr. Ford is depicted. He was far more appreciated by Solomon than the film shows. And if I can take one quick note here. This is part of why I love Solomon’s autobiography, not because that we want to say that there was some super kind slave owners in that sort of a terrible excuse sort of way that you sometimes hear from people, “You know that, Oh, slavery wasn’t that bad.”
No, slavery was awful. It was hideous, but he is…I’m just so impressed with him as a human being. I don’t, I don’t know that I can be sold into slavery and then make such, such a objective, I guess, assessments of, of people within the system of maintaining some sort of balance, I guess.
You know, I, I just, and of course, you know, we’re, we’re speaking to 21st century, so removed from it. It just baffles me that Solomon is just such a good human being, even be capable of this, in my opinion.
It sounds like the appreciation that we saw. On screen was just a small tidbit of what Solomon really did feel toward Mr.
Ford. Even not like you said, not to make it lessen. The fact that he still, you know, was a slave owner and I couldn’t imagine any of that situation. But I also think you’re saying, I couldn’t imagine being in that situation. And. Making those sorts of observations.
I mean, really, I can’t do justice to Solomon’s words.
If you don’t mind, I’ll actually read a solid paragraph here where he’s describing his feelings towards mr am I addition? This is pages 47 through 48 so to quote Solomon.
“Our master’s name was William Ford. In many Northern minds, perhaps the idea of a man holding his brother, man in servitude and the traffic in human flesh, a scene altogether incompatible with their conceptions of a moral or religious life.
From descriptions of such men as Birch and Freeman and others here and mentioned. They are led to despise it. Exa crate the whole class of slaveholders indiscriminately, but I was sometimes his slave and had an opportunity of learning. Well, his character and disposition, and it is, but simple justice to him.
When I say, in my opinion, there never was a more kind, noble, candid Christian man that William Ford, the influences and associations. That had always surrounded him, blinded him to the inherent wrong at the bottom of the system of slavery. He never doubted the moral right of one man holding another in subjection, looking through the same medium with his father’s before him.
He saw things in the same light, brought up under other circumstances and other influences. His notions would undoubtedly have been different. Nevertheless, he was a model master walking uprightly according to the light of his understanding. And fortunate was the slave who came to his possession were all men, such as he slavery would be deprived of more than half.
It’s bitterness. So yeah, you know, it’s, it’s the sort of thing that you could see someone who falsely wants to excuse slavery, quoting out of context. But it’s, that’s what Solomon really thought and felt, and it’s all, again, to where I’m so impressed with him, his ability to really have three dimensional characters, to see the beauty even within an ugly system.
I also think it’s worth noting that Frederick Douglas, again in his autobiographies, he doesn’t have anyone in his life that he felt quite as fondly towards as Solomon. But he often made some notes about how this system, it pulls everyone down. you know, and this isn’t, this is not to say that mr Ford’s being pulled down as equated to slavery, of course not, but that, you know, this, this system like the poverty cycle today, or, violence, domestic violence, that sort of thing, the way that it’s cyclical continued the, the ills of, of this specific system of slavery.”
One thing as you were reading that, that really. It struck me as interesting based on what you were talking about before, is it sounds like Solomon was so not familiar with the intricacies of that system before he was kidnapped, but then just how much this experience, I mean, it’s in the title of the movie, you know, 12 years.
He learned so much about that and the way he was able to. Put the readers or viewers of of the movie, of telling his story into his own shoes. That’s very telling of the type of person that he was.
Yeah, no, he is genuinely one of my, my heroes. Yeah. I think it’s a shame that we haven’t made a bigger point of telling his story traditionally, you know, in, among the heroes and legends of, of the United States, and I’m sure that’s born partly out of when you acknowledge such a, an incredible human being who was a slave, you’re also bringing up the shame that’s felt of slavery.
Dan LeFebvre: [00:24:43] Yeah. You can’t have one without the other.
Greg Jackson: [00:24:45] Right? But I, I just think Solomon should absolutely be loud and celebrated. I’ll also add that when we get to scenes with, with Tibbits, it’s Mr. Ford, who, who saves Solomon’s life always goes to bat for him. He stands up for him, unlike say, Frederick Douglas, his experience where the more levelheaded masters in his life have no problem saying, well, yeah, it’s really too bad that.
This guy’s being really violent towards you, but I’ll lose money. So you need to go back to work. Mr. Ford is always ready to stand up for him. He tells mr Tibbits die if he does not sell Solomon, get him out of his ownership, which that’s kind of glossed over in the movie, but Tibbits has purchased Solomon from Mr.
Ford, but on a mortgaging basis. So that’s where Mr. Ford still has a vested interest in him and is able to protect him. But mr foretells Tibbetts at one point after some of their fights, you are going to either rent him out or you will sell him. You will somehow get him out of your life, or I will make sure he is out of your life.
You’re not going to kill this man. You’re not going to keep beating on him. This is not not acceptable. He also is never pulled. This happens in the movie. Solomon tells Mr. Ford that he’s actually a free man. And the way that Benedict Cumberbatch does it does, he’s a phenomenal actor, does a great job with the role.
but you know, Mr. Ford kind of slinks back from this like, Oh, I can’t hear these things sort of, you know, don’t, don’t make my world morally complicated. Ford was never informed of this, so that was just a fabrication, flat out. So. Again, the essence of the film, I think capturing the depravities of slavery.
Great. Perhaps in that process though, Mr. Ford definitely did not get a fair shake.
Dan LeFebvre: [00:26:31] I want to touch on that one character that you talked about Tibbetts because. There’s a moment in the movie where Tibbetts actually hangs Solomon and retaliation for Solomon standing up to him, and then we see Mr. Ford step in, or actually, I think it’s mr Ford’s oversee or first step in,
Greg Jackson: [00:26:48] Yeah, I believe his name was Chapin.
Dan LeFebvre: [00:26:49] Yeah, he, he, he steps in, but then he stops the hanging, but then he just leaves Solomon to hang there while he goes to get Mr. Ford. We don’t really see exactly how much time passes, but you get the sense that it was daytime and then it starts to get Jaime dusk. By the time Mr. Ford gets there, he comes, cuts down the rope, saves Solomon, but then he tells Solomon that Tibbetts is going to, he’s going to keep coming.
He’s not gonna stop. So. What Mr. Ford ends up doing in the movie is an attempt to save Solomon’s life. He sells Solomon to another plantation, and that is where we first see Michael Fassbender’s character Edwin apps. So I have to ask, did Solomon nearly die by hanging? What can I only assume was ours in duct, the movie shows?
And then was that the reason why Solomon was sold from Mr. Ford to mr apps?
Greg Jackson: [00:27:46] So first off, he is left hanging out. What isn’t readily apparent in the book. And so I’m, I’m inclined to think that this is probably a little bit of Liberty and the depiction, I do not recall him being tiptoed. Don’t get me wrong.
Terrible waste. Spend a day. Right. and he mentions. That mentioned that that doesn’t even do justice. Solomon is absolutely being tortured in this moment. It’s awful and he’s left tied of all day long. It is Ford who comes and cuts him down. He doesn’t even know himself why he was left in that position.
He speculates that the overseer. He, he says he’s not sure why Chapman left him up, which is this guy just lacking in moral courage. That’s one of the things that Solomon speculates on just a coward, you know, not willing to undo what Tibbetts had done. And other thought that Solomon entertains is that perhaps Chapman wanted to ensure that Ford saw just what Tibbetts had done to Solomon.
Though, of course, Solomon makes pretty clear, you know, I really would have rather been cut down than been left in this position. For an entire day, you know, suffering. But that did happen. And that fight, again, this is another, you know, truncated thing. It really synthesized a number of conflicts that there are at least two conflicts that took place over the course of a month.
One of which solvent really just Wamps on, on tidbits. He wins the fight. It’s a, I mean, you’re just cheering for him as you read his autobiography. Right? And he doesn’t want to do this, but you know, at some point, this human being, right, he’s got to defend themself. He can’t, he can’t just let, it’s literally killed him, which is what he feared would happen.
So he finally fought back, choked Tibbetts until he, he passed out. And then Solomon ran for the swamp, fearing for his life and was great, really relieved when from a distance he saw Tibbetts regained consciousness and walked to the house because at least then he knew he wasn’t going to be charged with having killed a white man.
So, you know, things kind of died down after that. And then we have another fight. And so these are the things that are going on when Mr. Ford, to get to the second part of your question. When Mr. Ford, continuing to protect Solomon says to Tibbits, it’s clear that you hate him. I’m not going to let you kill this man.
I’m not going to let you harm this man that you have got to divest yourself of your, you know, your economic stake where he does like we do with houses today. You know, he had a mortgage on Solomon. So yes, he gets sold because Tibbetts is going to kill him if he doesn’t sell him. The inaccurate thing perhaps is I, as I recall in the film, I don’t think it really got into the nitty gritty of this shared interest where Tibbetts is the owner, you know, buying, buying it just, just like someone with a house, you know, to return to my mortgage example, right?
Like it’s sure it’s your house, you call it your, your house. But really the bank owns it. And if you fail to make payments, it’s, the house will get repossessed. Right? So that’s the, the financial relationship here. So Tibbits at per the instructions of Mr. Ford sells off Solomon to apps. And since apps, as I recall, at least, you know, did not need to have a mortgage, the purchases full and complete.
And at this point, Mr. Ford is no longer in the picture.
Dan LeFebvre: [00:31:07] Okay. So just to feed that back and make sure I understand that example there, would mr Tibbits. The bank in that example, or was he the
Greg Jackson: [00:31:16] is before it would’ve been the bank and not example.
Dan LeFebvre: [00:31:19] Okay. So he would have essentially held the mortgage that then Tibbetts would be paying on.
Greg Jackson: [00:31:23] Yeah, so Tibbits yeah, activities would be like the middleclass person looking to buy a house. And I think that’s a pretty fair comparison. Most slave owners only owned a very few slaves. When you picture this. To go super stereotypical, right? Like this, gone with the wind of massive plantations sort of thing.
That’s a very small minority of the population in the South. Under this economic system, we have a terrible spread of wealth. It’s highly concentrated in a very small upper class. And you know, then you get two planters who own, the vast majority of slave owners have less than 20 slaves. And then of course you get to to pour white to, Oh no, slaves.
By the time we get to the civil war, as things continue to spread in terms of the inequality. continuing to spread, you have a very small minority of really massive plantations compared to those who own just a handful. So tidbits would be more like a, an up and coming type who’s trying to acquire slaves, who’s trying to build up a, a big plantation.
Dan LeFebvre: [00:32:26] Okay. That’s a good explanation cause I don’t feel the movie really explained that side of it very much. It whisked over a lot of that. These two people are fighting against each other and then all of a sudden, mr Ford’s out of the picture.
Greg Jackson: [00:32:38] Which you know, to be fair, it, Hey, it’s a Hollywood film and they’re trying to entertain people as much as tell a story.
Right? I, most people aren’t interested in taking a 40 minute aside to explain the intricacies of the Southern economy for the civil war. So. I mean, I loved it, but yeah, it goes back to the historian side. Exactly.
Dan LeFebvre: [00:32:59] Well, speaking of mr Epps, the first that we see Edwin apps, that’s Michael Fassbender’s character.
He’s reading to the slave from the Christian Bible, which I find very ironic now. As Epps explains it. The Bible is saying that if the slaves don’t obey their master, then they’ll be beaten with a great many lashes and eat less off 4,000 hundred 50 lashes. The movie doesn’t really say what scripture it is, but I, I jotted it down and.
Looked it up. It’s Luke chapter 12 verse 47 and it really is part of the Bible that he’s reading from. The quote that he’s using in the movie comes from something that Jesus himself was saying as he’s talking to his disciples. So I’m curious what scripture used as a part of the excuse for slavery by people like apps who at least in a movie they claimed to be a godly man despite doing these horrible, horrible things.
Greg Jackson: [00:33:56] yes. In fact, that specific verse, Solomon does mention it in his autobiography. Now, I don’t believe APS was the one reading from it when he cited it when Solomon cited it, but the fact that Solomon would point to it, it just tells me that he probably heard it far more than on one occasion in his 12 years living life in slave.
It was a very common thing. You had a lot of preachers who readily turned to the scriptures and used it to excuse slavery. Let me also point out that Christianity was used by slave owners as. They didn’t just look into Christianity and say, look, here’s a verse or two where we can justify our owning a slaves, but some even justified the fact that they were converting slaves to Christianity as basically, you know, Oh, we are, we’re good people.
This is, this is how we can feel okay about what we’re, what we’re dealing. And you know, I don’t know if it would be that overt. I think Solomon, that, that passage I quoted from his description of Mr. Ford, it’s so cleanly describes how many slaveholders they’re raised in the system. It never even occurs to them to question it, but this is all part of the society building up the, you know, reasons why it’s okay for them to do it.
So as Africans are kidnapped and taken to the Americas. They come with indigenous African religions of, of all different types. And a lot of them are, are also Muslim, as long had spread South of the Sahara desert by this point, it, you know, to this day in the more Northern regions of Subsaharan Africa, you have a very split Muslim Christian population.
So. Yes. Converting a recently arrived slaves or you know, those, those holdouts, if you will, to Christianity that this is all part of feeling good at night about what they’re
Dan LeFebvre: [00:35:48] doing. Wow. Wow. And then, I’m assuming after converting them to Christianity, it’s not like they would set them free.
Greg Jackson: [00:35:54] Yeah, exactly.
Dan LeFebvre: [00:35:54] So it’s like, it doesn’t make sense.
Greg Jackson: [00:35:56] No. I think Reza Aslan, if you’re familiar with him, he’s written a number of books. no God, but God zealot. He’s a rather popular scholar of religion. He makes a point that people often bring to their scriptures who they are, and he’s usually discussing Islam and Christianity, but basically the violent person looks towards the scripture and they find reasons, rationale for being violent, where you know, God, not only sanctions, but even blesses their violence.
Whereas you know, the more kind of gentle soul. They latch onto those sorts of verses. Cause I can either find Jesus saying, I come right. Oh, now I’m spacing the exact wording.
Dan LeFebvre: [00:36:35] I don’t remember the exact wording, but it’s, I, I do not come to bring peace, but to bring the sword or something like that.
Greg Jackson: [00:36:40] Yeah.
It’s something like that. But of course, I can also find Jesus saying, you know, to, for not only to forgive, but to forgive, you know, not just seven times, but seven times 70 and turn the other cheek. Right. So, yeah, that’s kind, kinda raise it as let’s take, and that’s really resonated with me. I think it’s interesting to see that you had those who, who are happy to use the Bible to excuse slavery, while at the same time you’ve also got abolitionists, preachers who are, you know, saying that this is absolutely abhorrent in the eyes of God.
Dan LeFebvre: [00:37:10] And using the scriptures as their rationale for that as well.
Greg Jackson: [00:37:14] Exactly.
Dan LeFebvre: [00:37:16] Now, one thing I’m curious about, any time that I watch a movie and there’s numbers or stats, it’s low hanging fruit for me to try to do a fact check on that. And so when Solomon goes to mr epsis plantation, we get an indication of how much cotton they’re supposed to pick.
And we find out this from some of the lines in the movie. Patsy is somewhere around 500 pounds of cotton, which cotton is not very heavy.
Greg Jackson: [00:37:49] It’s not
Dan LeFebvre: [00:37:49] 500 pounds. I can’t even imagine that Solomon pig, 160 pounds, and this is a in a single day, and then there’s a white man there named arms fee and he only picked 64 pounds, but then app says that 200 pounds is a normal day’s work.
And then in another show of racism there, he tells arm speed that now you only picked 64 do better tomorrow. And then he takes Solomon out who did 160 pounds, and he whips him because he didn’t hit that 200 pound quota. So I, I dunno, I, it’s hard for me to fathom even how much space, 500 pounds or 160 pounds worth of cotton would take.
But are those numbers
Greg Jackson: [00:38:32] real. They are 200 pounds of cotton per day was pretty much the expectation. This is again, where I think the essence of the film is quite fantastic. They’re filling in a lot of blanks here. Perfectly fair for a movie to do because Solomon, he can only speak to his experience and you know, he’s Nike’s detailing every single day.
Let’s also bear in mind he’s trying to recall things that happened years after the fact. It’s not like he kept a journal as these events rolled out. So I’m trying to recall, you know, this is part of what happens when you watch the movie and you’ve read the sources, and sometimes it gets difficult to say for certain, I can’t recall off the top of my head that that exact scenario played out with the white hired help, but that’s absolutely something that that would have happened.
So again, I’m going to caveat that. I’m just not remembering it myself. Maybe it is in there in his over 200 page autobiography, and I’ve just forgotten that one instance. But I don’t think that was an unfair play as they’re trying to just convey the essence of, of things that really would happen on these plantations.
But yeah, 200 pounds and some slave owners were, you know, happy to ratchet it up. If somebody did two 21 day, well now that’s their new standard and beat them if they don’t continue to need it.
Dan LeFebvre: [00:39:44] Oh wow.
Greg Jackson: [00:39:45] Yeah, it’s awful.
Dan LeFebvre: [00:39:46] You’re talking earlier about how it was rare to have those huge plantations, like again, going back to gone with the wind, you know, in, in that example.
I’m still trying to wrap my head around how much space, 200 pounds of cotton and how much land you would have to have for that much for a single person to pick in a single day. Doing that every single day. I’m just picturing it must be massive, massive fields that mr Epps must’ve had.
Greg Jackson: [00:40:11] Oh, sure. I mean, I don’t know the acreage of his plantation off the top of my head, but they’re huge and you know, to, to make sure that we’re being perfectly accurate.
You know, when I say that, it’s rare to have these massive gone with the wind style, that type of wealth. I mean, I think at our 21st century world where we live in either high density housing, maybe, right? Like we live in a condo, a town home, maybe we live in the suburbs. And so we enjoy it entire, what quarter acre of land, you know, to live on.
This is a different standard. So when we talk about small plantation, you know, we were still talking acres and acres of land, which is just, you know, it’s, it’s, it’s small compared. To these massive plantations and the number of slaves owned and working are, are under 20 as opposed to plantations where, you know, there, there are hundreds and, and often when we’re talking about the truly large wealthy.
Southern slave holders, they have multiple plantations, so it’s not like all those hundreds are working on one single plot of land. They may have one piece of property in this by you, and then 60 miles away they’ve got a piece of property that’s also growing cotton, or it could be an entirely different crop.
So picturing this big uniform, rectangular plantation with perfect rows, that will be quite realistic.
Dan LeFebvre: [00:41:34] That makes a little more sense there. Now. I want to talk about the character that I just mentioned previously. Patsy, her part of the story in the movie, the whole movie is gut wrenching and I can’t count them amount of times that I cried throughout it.
Greg Jackson: [00:41:50] Right. So this is a bad one though.
Dan LeFebvre: [00:41:53] Yeah. Yeah. Patsy is, mr is just taken with. And with her, he rapes her. We only see it once in the movie, but it’s implied that that’s just a regular occurrence. And then on the other side, mrs abs, mr Epps, his wife clearly knows something’s going on and we don’t really know if she knows the extent of it, but she takes all of this out on Patsy.
So Patsy is getting it from. Both sides, both from mr Epson and mrs Epps, even so much so that mrs F’s won’t give Patsy soap to clean herself with. And there’s one point in the movie where Patsy says she had to try and go get some soap from a neighboring plantation because she smelled so bad that she was making herself gag and things just got so bad for her that you can just feel it when she goes to Solomon and she’s like.
Kill me. I want to get out of this living hell. And he, he denies the request saying that he just can’t do it. I’m hoping there’s not truth to her story, but unfortunately I have a feeling there is some truth to that.
Greg Jackson: [00:43:09] Unfortunately, there’s a lot of truth to her story. This is one of the more accurate depictions in the film.
You know, we’re not just talking to essence, but you know, really pretty well done. It. You know, I already mentioned the existence of quote unquote fancy girls earlier, and Patsy had the misfortune in this world to be an attractive and slave woman. And that’s just a recipe for, I mean, it’s gonna depend on the winds and the morality of the slave owner, you know?
But it often meant rape. Now, Solomon’s record never uses the word rape. I personally think she was. No. In my mind, there’s no question only as a, as a careful historian who never wants to say something that isn’t in the record itself. I’ll just note that, that Solomon didn’t say it, but good grief, given the circumstances, given Epps is clear, lack of a moral compass.
He intimidates, you know, they are night and day from Ford. Which you know, again, I’ll, I’ll beat up on on this point. This is part of the excellence of Solomon’s record is the way he gives us very full characters, really showing us those who are capable of maintaining morality despite a system that gives them complete permission to have zero morality and those who readily given to their worst aspects of their personality.
And indulge in violence and, and rape against, these human beings that they are able to treat as chattel. Patsy story is true at Solomon is forced to whip her and he does, this did happen in the movie. Yes. He throws down the whip and refuses to do it. And, yeah, I mean, this is, Yeah. These are all things that happened.
Dan LeFebvre: [00:45:06] Wow. I was hoping that wasn’t true, but I have a feeling just based on the discussion we’ve had so far,
Greg Jackson: [00:45:12] you know, this is another instance that shows how so many good people get stuck in absolutely impossible situations that we have the luxury of not having to worry about as much in the 21st century. I mean, Solomon has no interest in hitting Patsy.
He knows if he doesn’t do the whipping, though. That abs is going to do the whipping and w Epps is going to do it far harder, right?
Dan LeFebvre: [00:45:37] Yeah. I can’t. It’s an impossible situation. There’s no, there’s no winning. You can’t win. Going back to the movie while working on epsis plantation, Solomon meets a man by the name of bass and he’s played by Brad Pitt right away.
Bass is a different person. We find out that he doesn’t believe in slavery. He even. Confronts apps with this, saying that, you know, even though the law says that a white man can own a black man, the law lies, and he tells apps that in the eyes of God, there is no difference. Kind of what we alluded to before, where it sounds like he’s using scripture as a reason for why this is an evil thing.
They’re both human and there’s gonna come a time when the law were changed. That’s w the way that bass kind of phrases that to apps. Of course in a movie, it doesn’t change minds, but Solomon overhearing this, it’s gives him the confidence to confide in bass and he tells him the true story. He says, my name isn’t plat, which is what everybody had called him.
My name is Solomon Northup and I’m a free man from New York, and he asks bass to write a letter to his friends up in the North on his behalf. Movie doesn’t do a real deep dive into who bass is, but he seems to play a pretty major role in Solomon’s story, even if it is a small role in the movie, but it’s a major role.
Assuming that that actually happened in the overall story for Solomon, what do we know about who he was and the parts that we saw in the movie from a historical perspective?
Greg Jackson: [00:47:21] So again, broad strokes here. Pretty good bass is a Canadian middle-aged, I think something that isn’t brought up enough in the film, you know, for my historical liking.
Again, graduations to the filmmakers are hard thing to do, but being an abolitionist, which is what bass is. That’s crazy talk at this point in history. You know, we’re in the 1850 so we’re even coming up to the civil war. In my experience in the classroom, and you know, other conversations I’ve come to have the impression that Americans seem to think that it was the anti slavery North versus the pro slavery South and the civil war.
And that just gives way too much credit to most northerners, to be really honest. You had slavery. People in the North, but even anti slavery was to be distinguished from someone who has an actual abolitionist. Being anti-slavery meant that you didn’t like it, but Andy, you’re probably opposed to it spreading to new U S territories, which is a major fight happening in the United States in the 1850s all part of what builds up to the civil war.
But actually being an abolitionist who says, not only do we not want slavery to expand, we want to see slavery, eradicate it. We want that system wiped out even where it exists. Those people are considered full on radicals and they’re quite rare. So bass is a truly fascinating character. And. Once again, the type of person who, you know, these people exist in real life.
We often use these large blankets, you know, descriptions of say, Democrats, Republicans, or you know, people in the South, people in. But we often lose sight that there are people who disagree with the majority opinion within each of these sorts of religious, political, country, you know, camps, whatever it might be.
So the idea that you’d get this, Ken Nadian abolitionists working in the South, it’s, you know, all the real life can be stranger than fiction like this. You know, he’s absolutely out of place, and yet here we are. So it takes weeks. The weeks of him working on land and talking with apps and talking with reps in a way that only a a white man can write.
He talks to apps as his equal. He’s this skilled worker who’s been been brought here to work and he’s able to do this with Solomon. Solomon’s a great carpenter, and as they work together, Solomon has overheard. Fast is diatribes against slavery. He slowly thinks, you know what? I’m ready to do this. I’m going to risk my life.
And tell him the truth, and he eases into it. Even by saying that I’ve actually been to Canada and fast kind of goes, Oh yeah, sure you have. Then. Then Solomon starts describing places in Canada and New York, and you know, again, this is the 19th century, right? There’s no Google maps, you know, there’s you, you can’t know these sorts of things about these regions without having been there.
And that’s when bass kind of positive, Whoa, hold up. This is serious. You’re not kidding. And so then, you know, he tells him, yeah, tells him the whole deal, and BASF puts himself at great risk and helping. He gets a letter off. They continue to work together for weeks. They don’t know whether or not the letter gets there.
Right. You know, this isn’t an email that says, sent this not a text message. There’s no
Dan LeFebvre: [00:50:48] tracking number and the letter that,
Greg Jackson: [00:50:50] yep. So they don’t even know. Is he going to get there when it gets there? It’s been over a decade. Does Solomon even know? Sure. There’s got to be some people in the town that still know him, but what if the flu has come through and and killed, you know, the very people to whom he’s riding and that sort of a thing.
So it does get there. And, and then, you know, the scene that we see in the movie, I think is really quite well done. Solomon’s friend, no relation, at least that I recall. But coincidentally, same last name. This is Henry Northup. He shows up with his lawyer, you know, they’ve gotten the letter and they move quickly once they get there, because of course, they’re sure that, well, abs is not going to just roll over and do the right thing, if you will.
Dan LeFebvre: [00:51:36] Right. He’s already proven that.
Greg Jackson: [00:51:37] Exactly. So they wait for the weekend and it’s 1201 on a Monday morning. So literally one minute past midnight when they go and see a judge, get the judge to sign off on a warrant saying, okay, yeah, there’s a free citizen of New York has been kidnapped and taken here.
Then absolutely. This New York lawyer has the right to extract him back to his home state. So they get that squared away. They head over to the plantation where Solomon’s working. And then that scene that you see where the sheriff gets out, asks where asks where plat is. Cause of course that’s the name he’s known by, right?
And he points to Henry Northup and ask solvent, you know, do you know this guy? And it does actually take a minute longer to play out than you’d expect. At first blush, but let’s remember, they haven’t seen each other and over a decade, and here’s solid dream, suddenly coming true out of the blue, he doesn’t get a text, you know, Hey, I’m on my way.
There’s no ETA sent by Google maps. You can know, Hey Henry on route. So. He stares out and kind of blinks for a minute. And then finally he says, you know, Henry being orthope, thank God, thank God. And in the sheriff asked a few more questions, you know, to really kind of ensure the identity has, of course, human beings enslaved, are very expensive.
So he’s got to ensure that this is really the case. And it’s only just a few more questions. And finally, yeah, it’s sorted out. And. So then epsis told of of what’s just happened and Solomon is finally restored to freedom and they then head up to Washington D C where they try to prosecute the, you know, th the scoundrels involved in this whole nightmare.
And from there they head back to New York.
Dan LeFebvre: [00:53:29] I’m curious, cause in the movie. I think it was RSV. The other person that was the white man who only like picked 64 pounds of, of cotton or something. Solomon initially tried to get his help to write a letter, and so that was one of the reasons why, at least according to the movie, he was so hesitant to go to bass later on because now when we went to arms, we arms, we then talked to mr.
Absent brought it to his attention. Do we know if he had tried, if he had explained his story to anybody before bass, or was he the first one?
Greg Jackson: [00:54:06] Fast is the first one. He’s really laid this out there with, he did get a sailor when he was first being transported down to Louisiana. On the way, there was a sailor that he was able to get the story to.
So, you know, this is the very beginning of this, 12 years ago, and this sailor was willing to write a letter and did so, however, it was almost maybe offering a little bit of closure to his family, sort of a thing at best, because the sailor and Solomon, they don’t know where he’s headed. They just know he’s being transported South.
So now he’s a needle in a haystack. Sure. The family can, you know, at least know that. Solomon didn’t leave them, but they don’t even know what state he’s in. How do you even begin to look? That was the one, at least a six successful letter. He is. Forgive me. I, you know, as I said earlier, sometimes watching the movie and read through the sources, I’m trying to recall, and if I am mistaken on that, I, I do apologize.
I don’t recall him approaching RSB. but it has been drilled into his mind at this point. He knows not to say he’s from the North. He knows not to mention that he’s literate. It’s illegal to teach a slave how to read and write.
Dan LeFebvre: [00:55:17] Oh, wow.
Greg Jackson: [00:55:18] Oh yeah. It’s, I, by the time we know when the civil war ends, you have plenty of very intelligent, capable black Americans that don’t know how to read it and write it.
Because of course, education is one of the great ways to equip someone with the power to fight for themselves. So. You can see where slave systems would make laws that prohibited slaves from reading and writing.
Dan LeFebvre: [00:55:42] I hadn’t thought about it that way, but yeah, that makes sense. I mean, you control the information.
One thing that stood out to me throughout the entire movie was there’s no sense of a timeline to it. We, we get that a bit in the very beginning that tells us the date, but then after that. There’s no years, there’s no dates or anything like that that are given, which I think when I was watching this, it really helped add to this story.
Sometimes I’m like, Oh man, you know how much time is actually passing here? But in that way, just putting yourself in his shoes. You’re not going to have a phone, then that gives you the time. All right. So it helps add to the story that you’re as lost as he is in some way, in that way of, you know, not really knowing how much time actually has passed.
Yeah. I guess you could keep track of day and night cycles, but I mean, you can only keep track of that manually for so long, right. Before you start to lose track of things. But I also know from looking back at history and having done this podcast for a while, that one of the key things that movies like to do a lot of times is to change the timeline in order to shift things around.
Again, we’re trying to fit 12 years into an hour, two hours, right? So there’s going to be timeline shifting in that way, but now that we have a better idea of the overall story and some of the things that actually happened. Of course, title of movie, title of book. We know that that story was roughly 12 years.
Can you give us kind of a, a bullet point of the events that we see in the movie and where in that 12 years it took place?
Greg Jackson: [00:57:26] Yeah. I mean, it’s pretty sketched because he doesn’t know often, but the broad strokes here is April, 1841 when he gets to Washington D C. The next month, he’s on his way down to new Orleans and he sneaks off that letter that I just mentioned a moment ago, you know, through, through a sailor.
By winter of 1842 that’s when Tibbetts comes into the picture. And you know, again, we already went through that complicated scenario. So that’s where he’s in this, you know, mortgaged out situation. And then April of 1843 is when he is purchased by apps. And this is where things really just become broad because he’s owned by ups for the next 10 years.
And in fact, the autobiography, at least the addition I have in the way the page nation. It’s worked out. It’s a little over 200 pages. The first 50 or so are just his capture. You know, it’s where he’s got a lot of the details and there’s a lot of things happening. I think we fall into a little bit, not to downplay the severity and the suffering of, of slavery.
but by the time we’re to apps. He’s into the monotony of it as well. So there’s just less details, I guess you could say.
Dan LeFebvre: [00:58:50] Days run together, you just lose track of time.
Greg Jackson: [00:58:52] Yes, precisely. So you don’t have these big markers in your mind. These shifts where, Whoa, I’m being sent to an entirely different, no plantation.
I’m doing a very different job. Not that his jobs didn’t change, as you know, it is even shown in the movie where he’s. You know, moving things down rivers at one point. And you know, sometimes he’s a carpenter, sometimes he’s in the field. But yeah, that’s, that’s where we have apps. And then of course, January of 1853 is when he regains his freedom.
Dan LeFebvre: [00:59:20] Now, at the very end of the movie, as is very often the case, there’s some text on the screen, explains what happens to Solomon after being kidnapped and sold into slavery. And according to the movie, Solomon brought the men responsible for his kidnap to trial. I already mentioned that a little bit briefly, but it also says that he was unable to testify because testifying against whites in Washington D C was illegal, and so neither Mr.
Hamilton or Mr. Brown are prosecuted. Basically, they just got away with their crimes.
Greg Jackson: [00:59:53] Absolutely. To
Dan LeFebvre: [00:59:54] really. Was Washington, D C during civil war. That was a, a Northern or a union area, right? Correct. Does that go back to what you were talking about earlier, where it’s not necessarily these divided lines of, you know, there’s no racism in the North and in the South that it’s slavery.
Greg Jackson: [01:00:11] It does get back to that. So when the civil war even happens, the border States, which are States where there’s slavery, they don’t break off. Slavery basically goes in a gradation from the North where there is. I’m actually going to say almost no slavery. The Northern States, something that’s often forgotten by people did in fact permit slavery before the American revolution and shortly after.
They’re largely non slave based economies. It just didn’t have the right climate for it. It made no sense. You can’t have a massive plantation in new England, so the idea of owning a bunch of slaves and getting really rich off of it just didn’t fly. So you didn’t have a robust usage of slavery as such, they were more inclined to end it, you know, as, as they’re ushering in this new nation based upon the idea that all men are created equal Liberty, you know, all these beautiful things that we think of when we think of the United States or we idealize about our nation.
The North was ready to end slavery, so they did gradual emancipation, what they said in most States, and this was done on a state by state basis. They usually said, okay, anyone born into slavery after X year, 1800 1805 et cetera will only be enslaved until they turn 25 or 23 or whatever. And then they’re free.
And any children they have are born free. And so this a set up those who did on slaves in the North to anticipate the shift that was coming to prepare their houses economically, if you will. So you actually had just a very few, I’m talking over 90 years old slaves in some of the Northern States. I mean.
I think the figures under a hundred people even, but some sub souls, you know, who were born in the 1790s or you know, earlier, still still enslaved. If then you get into the border, well, we start to get into States that have. The type of climate where slavery can make some money and they rely less on slavery, and they tended to be more inclined to stick with the union.
Virginia was on the border with this in a very literal sense, and that’s where the counties that now, you know, broke off and it became the state of West Virginia did so because they were interested in leaving the union. They didn’t really use slavery as much. Whereas other parts of the state, we’re ready to go with the Confederacy, and Virginia was one of the last to jump on the Confederate bandwagon, I think you get into the deep South.
So sorry if that’s more explanation than you wanted there. But, what I’m trying to situate is that Washington D C had slavery, had a robust slave slave auctions, and many like Abraham Lincoln when he was, a Congressman representing Illinois, he even tried to pass a bill that would have ended slavery in DC.
Didn’t happen, couldn’t make it happen. Didn’t happen until he became president. In fact. So, yeah, there’s a big slave market in DC, and slavery still exists there either. When the civil war breaks out, it’s, you know, Kentucky is this border state that never officially goes really one way or the other, and ETH part of the awkwardest Abraham Lincoln has during the civil war, when he gets to the emancipation proclamation, he’s trying to keep his border States from joining the CSA, which is what’s going to happen if he comes down to harshly on slavery.
he’s trying to keep his, the Democrats happy, who don’t want to insulate. Really. They just want preserve the union. But then he’s also got abolitionists. We’re saying, okay, we’re already going to war over. Sure, we can say state’s rights, but really slavery is these state right there. We’re fighting over here.
Let’s end slavery. And all those tensions are boiling at the same time.
Dan LeFebvre: [01:03:48] It really helps paint another aspect of the picture of why Solomon’s kidnappers. Would have gone that extra step to provide him the papers going to Washington D C just as that extra layer of helping him feel safe and why those papers were unnecessary.
Part of that . There’s a little bit more about Solomon there at the very end, talking about after he wrote his book, which published in 1853 to tell his story. Then it says that he lectured on slavery and even helped free some slaves in the underground railroad, and then we find out at the very end that’s the date, location and circumstances of Solomon’s death are unknown.
Is that true? Yeah.
Greg Jackson: [01:04:37] He just kind of disappears from history. We look at him now and think, wow, what an amazing American. You know what a hero, as I said earlier in this very interview, right? I mean, I will never forget the first time I read 12 years a slave. I was moved to tears multiple times. it really opened my eyes to, this was earlier on in my, my education.
I didn’t know nearly as much about the American slave system before the civil war. when, when I read it. But it’s not like Americans at the time saw this great hero. In fact, northerners, this is really fascinating. At the end of his autobiography, he actually says, you know, some people in the North, they don’t believe my story.
They think this is insane. There’s no way that Americans are this cruel to their fellow Americans who are enslaved, which not that they would think of it that way. Right. More, more likely, they would just think of it as their slaves as a lesser class. So northerns can’t even wrap their heads often. Even those who aren’t abolitionists, or they might not even be anti-slavery.
Maybe they just don’t care one way or the other. But part of why they don’t care is they just cannot fathom that the cruelties described in his autobiography are real and people do this. These are contemporaries. They don’t believe him. And, Sullivan even says, you know, if anything, I might’ve downplayed some of the cruelty that exists within the slave system.
Partly because I realize people can’t quite wrap their heads around it, so he’s not the hero that we CMS today at the time, and he is able to just disappear from the pages of history. In a weird way. This is no knock on uncle Tom’s cabin, but Harriet Beecher Stowe, her book comes out, I believe, just after it’s, it’s about the same time as Solomon’s book and is popular and well read.
His Solomon’s book is, you know, his actual autobiography, her book, which is kind of a fiction. I mean, it’s a composite. It’s a fictional story, but it’s based on the experiences of a number of slaves, you know, stitch together. A towed into one to seeing flowing narrative, but Harriet’s bookie clips is Solomon’s.
So he kind of drops out of the picture. That’s part of how he ended up getting buried. And partly thanks to the film, you know, we’ve certainly talked about some of the weaknesses of the film. And again, I’ll, I’ll say Mr. Ford is the one who drew the short straw, but God bless the filmmakers for getting a Solomon story in front of Americans to, you know, to even think through these things and in grappling with the challenges of bringing it to the screen.
Dan LeFebvre: [01:07:05] Yeah. Well, thank you so much for your time to chat about 12 years of slave.
Greg Jackson: [01:07:10] My pleasure.
Dan LeFebvre: [01:07:11] That leads right into your podcast where I know you told Solomon’s story, and I love when I was listening, your podcast. I love that it’s a very different historical podcast. It’s not just historical facts, but you do a great job of telling the stories of history.
Can you share a little bit of information about your podcast and where someone listening can subscribe?
Greg Jackson: [01:07:32] Absolutely. so history that doesn’t suck, and of course it’s all the usual places that you’ll find a podcast. No iTunes, Spotify and all that jazz website is history that doesn’t suck.com and we’re on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, you know the works.
Basically, I feel strongly that as great as we are doing today is professional historians at telling an accurate history. I think we have sometimes let the stories actually slip out and we forget that. That’s what draws people in that we are a species that love story. So while I keep the rigor, I mean, the research is, it’s like I’m writing a research paper, but I made sure that I rap.
All the, the things that you know, you might not find is fun to memorize, like tax policy. You know, during the revolution. I wrap it up with the personal narratives like Patrick Henry in that situation. Get himself into hot water over the stamp act so you can get invested in Patrick and you know, you accidentally pick up the facts on what the stamp act did.
At the same time, you
Dan LeFebvre: [01:08:35] accidentally learn about taxes.
Greg Jackson: [01:08:38] Exactly. Exactly. So thank you. It’s, it’s been fun to do. It’s been great to see it growing and this is my passion, you know, making, making history fun, accessible, but keeping it rigorous all at once. At least that’s what I aim for.
Dan LeFebvre: [01:08:52] Thanks again so much for your time.
Greg Jackson: [01:08:53] My pleasure.