Descendants of Solomon Northup encounter a record of his enslavement at the National Archives:
Solomon Northup was a free man when he was abducted and sold into slavery in 1841. He survived to recount his story in a memoir, 12 Years A Slave, which is now a motion picture. Yesterday, a few of his descendants viewed the document that marks the beginning of Northup’s journey into slavery—a slave manifest from the brig Orleans. Number 33 on the list of slaves bound for New Orleans is Plat Hamilton, the alias chosen for Northup by his kidnappers.
The descendants of Solomon Northup say they were aware of his story as they grew up, but seeing the actual documentation was an emotional experience. Today’s Washington Post has a story about their visit: http://t.co/b1Pz534rTS
The slave manifest is on display at the National Archives through March 30.
One of the descendants, Vera Williams, works at the National Archives. You can read her personal story (http://go.usa.gov/B68G) or learn how she and Clayton Adams walked in the footsteps of her great-great-great-grandfather Solomon Northup (http://go.usa.gov/B68z).
Photo: Northup descendants Clayton Adams and Vera Williams find his name on the slave manifest at the National Archives. (Photo by Jeff Reed)
This slave manifest for the brig Orleans, which includes Solomon Northup listed as Plat Hamilton on line 33, is now on display at the National Archives.
In 1841, Solomon Northup, a free-born African American from New York, was kidnapped by two white men and enslaved for 12 years in the deep South before he could prove his legal right to freedom. He later wrote about his ordeal in his book “12 Years A Slave” which was made into a movie.
Abducting free blacks for sale into slavery was outlawed in most of the United States. However uneven law enforcement, the marginal rights of free blacks, and mounting demand for slaves after the end of the transatlantic slave trade made kidnapping an attractive and potentially profitable prospect that encouraged the creation of a reverse underground railroad.
Kidnappers gave their victims aliases to hide their true identities. Northup recounted that he first heard the name he would be known by as a slave, “Plat Hamilton,” in New Orleans when it was called from this slave manifest (line 33) for the brig Orleans. Victims who insisted that they were free often faced severe beatings or even death. Northup accepted his identity as “Plat” because “[He] was too costly a chattel to be lost … [and] knew well enough the slightest knowledge of [his] real character would consign [him] at once to the remotest depths of Slavery.”
Vera Williams, a direct descendent of Solomon Northup works at the National Archives. You can read her personal story or learn how she walked in the footsteps of her great-great-great-grandfather.
"Serg’t. Stephen A. Swails particularly distinguished himself for coolness and bravery; he is a man in every way competent to do credit in a higher position, and I with pleasure recommend him for a Second Lieutenancy in this Regt."
Letter from Colonel Edward Hallowell to the Governor of Massachusetts, 2/24/1864
Regimental and Company Books of the 54th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment (Colored) Regiment, 05/13/1863 - 09/01/1865. Records of the Adjutant General’s Office
Recognizing the abilities of Sgt. Stephen A. Swails, Col. E. N. Hallowell recommends that Swails be promoted to second lieutenant and Massachusetts Governor John A. Andrew commissioned Swails on March 11, 1864. However, the War Department would deny this request because Swails is “of African descent.” Swails would eventually be granted his promotion in 1865 and his seniority adjusted to May 14, 1864—the day he was assigned duty as a second lieutenant.
"Members of the Nation’s first Negro Navigation Cadets, who will receive their commissions in the Army Air Forces on February 26th, visited City Hall as guests of Mayor Fiorello H. La Guardia this afternoon. They are shown on the steps of City Hall as the mayor greeted their commanding officer, Maj. Galen B. Price.", 02/16/1944
The Emancipation Proclamation will be on display for just three days this month: February 15, 16, and 17 as part of the National Archives’ celebration of Black History Month.
Due to its fragile condition, it can only be displayed for a limited time each year. The document will be on display in the new David M. Rubenstein Gallery in the National Archives Building in Washington, DC.
By the President of the United States of America:
Whereas, on the twenty-second day of September, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-two, a proclamation was issued by the President of the United States, containing, among other things, the following, to wit:
"That on the first day of January, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, all persons held as slaves within any State or designated part of a State, the people whereof shall then be in rebellion against the United States, shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free; and the Executive Government of the United States, including the military and naval authority thereof, will recognize and maintain the freedom of such persons, and will do no act or acts to repress such persons, or any of them, in any efforts they may make for their actual freedom.
"Photograph of a color guard of black children holding flags and a wreath at the entrance to the Lincoln Memorial., 02/12/1947"
Abbie Rowe, photographer. From the series: Photographs Relating to the Administration, Family, and Personal Life of Harry S. Truman
Photo from a ceremony commemorating Abraham Lincoln’s birthday at the Lincoln Memorial in 1947.
Happy Facial Hair Friday! This self portrait, with carefully groomed mustache in the center, is a glamorous photo of a hardworking, groundbreaking photographer.
James Stephen “Steve” Wright was from a working-class family in Washington, DC. By the 1940s he was head of photographic operations for the Federal Works Agency.
In an interview with Nicholas Natason, Wright recalled that “In those days, it was tough for a black man even to become a file clerk in the government … You had to mind your P’s and Q’s, because there were lower-level whites who resented the fact that you were doing photography at all and were waiting for you to stumble.”
But Wright was extremely good at his job; he was efficient, diplomatic and organized. In 1957, Wright was appointed as Photographic Branch Chief at the Department of State. He created State’s first central file on diplomatic personalities, events, and facilities.
Read the full story of Wright’s Federal career over on the Pieces of History blog.
Image: Steve Wright during his Federal Works Agency days. National Archives (208-NP-IY-1).
Frederick Douglass, February 1818 - February 20, 1895
Born into slavery in Maryland in 1818, Frederick Douglass went on to become a prominent abolitionist, author, orator and statesman.
Frederick Douglass, ca. 1879
From the Frank W. Legg Photographic Collection of Portraits of Nineteenth-Century Notables:
The Beginning of National Black History Month - 1976
What first began as Negro History Week in February 1926 expanded into a month-long celebration in 1976. President Gerald R. Ford issued this message recognizing National Black History Month on February 10, 1976.
-from the Ford Library
Check out our newest blog! “Rediscovering Black History: Updates from the National Archives” is now live.
This blog is a partner project to the work of National Archives staff who are updating Dr. Debra Newman Ham’s guide “Black History: A Guide to Civilian Records in the National Archives,” originally published in 1984.
The updated version of this award-winning black history guide will be more user friendly. It will also introduce non-traditional researchers to the valuable resources that the National Archives has to offer regarding the black experience.
Visit the blog at http://blogs.archives.gov/blackhistoryblog/
Image: Letter from Ida B. Wells to “Mrs. Dawes” ARC Identifier 578368. Ida B. Wells was among many individuals who wrote to the Department of Justice demanding Federal help to fight racial violence. Read the full story of this letter on the blog!
In 1926, historian Carter G. Woodson helped create “Negro History Week” during the second week of February, chosen because it coincided with Frederick Douglass’s birthday (February 7), as well as Abraham Lincoln’s (February 12).
In 1976, the Federal government expanded the week to “Black History Month.”
Check out our newest board on Pinterest: “Celebrating Black History Month.”
Rosa Parks, the “Mother of the Civil Rights Movement” will be honored with a special document display and programs at the National Archives during the month of February:
On December 1, 1955, Rosa Parks refused to yield her seat to a white passenger on a city bus in Montgomery, Alabama. This act inspired the Montgomery Bus Boycott, led by a young Martin Luther King, Jr., and began a movement that ended legal segregation in America.
Join us Monday, February 4, at noon for a special program celebrating her centennial year.
William S. Pretzer introduces the 2002 documentary Mighty Times: The Legacy of Rosa Parks (40 mins.) Presented in partnership with the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture.
The program is free! Enter through the “Special Events” extrance on Constitution Avenue. Doors open at 6:30. Take the Green/Yellow Metro lines to the “Archives” stop.
Image: Rosa Parks at the ceremony awarding her the Congressional Gold Medal, June 15, 1999. William J. Clinton Presidential Library and Museum, National Archives