Rare Book Exemplifies the Triumph of the Human Spirit

The National Underground Railroad Freedom Center is the home to a truly unique collection of artifacts.  These pieces of the past share stories of courage, cooperation and perseverance, the cornerstones of freedom movements throughout history. 

Earlier this year, the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center accepted a very important artifact into the Permanent Collection.  An early printing of the First Edition of the book 12 Years a Slave by Solomon Northup was graciously donated by longtime Freedom Center supporters Francie and John Pepper. 

In this narrative, Solomon Northup, born a free man of color, shares his story of being kidnapped into a life of slavery.  Solomon was owned by three different men during his twelve years of enslavement, but he never lost the hope of finding freedom.  When the opportunity presented itself, Solomon courageously revealed his story to a white gentleman who outwardly opposed the institution of slavery.  He agreed to help by sending a letter about Solomon’s enslavement to friends in the North.  In 1853, Solomon regained his freedom and returned to his family in New York, a free man.  Solomon Northup published his original narrative in 1853, immediately after escaping from slavery.

Curatorial staff at the Freedom Center were thrilled to receive this rare copy of 12 Years a Slave.  The book is in excellent condition and can potentially be shared with visitors for years to come.  As staff work diligently to reveal stories about the triumph of the human spirit, this book serves as a vehicle for education staff to interpret the lives of individuals who experienced the horrors of chattel slavery in America.  Slave narratives like 12 Years a Slave teach us today that a single person has the power to advocate for abolition.

The book 12 Years a Slave is on display in the Hall of Everyday Freedom Heroes gallery.  Be sure see this historic book while taking the Solomon Northup Tour at the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center.


Cori Sisler, Manager of Collections and Exhibitions