After watching the film, Twelve Years A Slave, my colleague, Rich Cooper, and I were reeling with emotions. Chiwetel Ejiofor’s performance as Solomon Northup gave us goosebumps – not to mention the performances by Michael Fassbender and Lupita Nyong’o. Everyone I talked to was processing the film days later, and we realized how important it was to work through the emotions this film rattled inside of us. Its impact on race-relations, human trafficking, the cradle-to-prison pipeline, and so many other contemporary issues is huge – and some place needed to harness the film’s power to achieve dialogue and action. We also thought that Solomon’s powerful story on film deserved to be honored in a national institution.
The Solomon Northup Tour
So, the Solomon Northup Tour was birthed. I’m a native of Saratoga Springs, New York – the very town Solomon lived in prior to his kidnapping – and Rich is a historian of the Underground Railroad (his newest book, Cincinnati’s Underground Railroad, releases in March 2014). Both of us were passionate about his story long before the film, and we were honored to transform his narrative into a guest experience that could create powerful meaning for today.
The tour begins the moment you step toward our elevators in our main lobby. You enter a scene from the film where Solomon and Ann ride in a carriage in Saratoga. The elevator doors open, physically separating Ann and Solomon – a depiction of the twelve years to come. Once you arrive on the second floor, you’re greeted by our beautiful Grand Hall, a two story atrium created by the unification of three wings of the museum: the Courage Pavilion, the Cooperation Pavilion, and the Perseverance Pavilion, the three characteristics that define the historic Underground Railroad and, certainly, Solomon’s journey. The flood of natural light through the magnificent two-story windows draws you to the river scene to the south, where you begin following Solomon’s story.
7 Stops – and a Changed Life
The Solomon Northup Tour weaves through two floors and more than three permanent exhibits. In each of the seven stops, you learn more about Solomon’s heart-breaking story. For instance, on the second stop, you step inside our largest artifact: the John W. Anderson Slave Pen, a real slave pen built in the 1800s and used as a holding pen by a slave trader from Kentucky. While standing in this slave pen, you read about Solomon’s kidnapping in Washington D.C., his confinement inside a pen just like this one, and his first whipping – again, inside a slave pen like this one. You imagine Solomon – and millions of others – standing where you are standing. And, you feel the cold, bitter hatred that crawls out to underpin a system such as slavery.
There are six more stops, each of which offer a glimpse into Solomon’s life and allow you to experience his story. Through artifacts, murals, paintings and portraits, and a reproduction of a cotton bale you’re transported back in time, whispering hope to Solomon and feeling compassion for the nameless millions whose stories didn’t make the silver screen.
Solomon and Today
The final stop on your journey is our permanent exhibit, Invisible: Slavery Today, where you encounter the stories of five others: Alexandre, Kumar, Tatyana, Mariano and Helia. These five individuals share their stories with you, too – except that they’re nearly a century and a half later. Through their courage, cooperation and perseverance you learn that slavery still exists despite our common understanding that it ended in 1865.
Our Final Thoughts
Rich and I hope that you’ll take a few hours to come down to the Freedom Center to take this important tour. We don’t recommend planning your date night around it because, quite honestly, you’ll most likely be ready to digest and process in silence. But that’s what this tour is for – for our friends, family and guests to process their emotions and thoughts after viewing a film like Twelve Years A Slave.
What does this film mean for contemporary America? Can we develop a meaningful approach to the legacies of slavery? Our colleagues at the Freedom Center believe so, and this is our first step toward doing so. We truly hope you’ll think so, too.
The tour is presented courtesy of the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center. If you enjoy the tour, consider joining our movement by becoming a member of the museum or supporting our mission.
The tour is curated by Rich Cooper and Brooke Hathaway. Tour materials were designed by Jesse Kramer. Copyright 2013.
Valuing personal freedom for everyone, abolitionists truly believed that “All men are created equal.” They fought fiercely to end the institution of slavery, and through the cooperation of many, American slavery was abolished in 1865. One of the most important tools of the Abolitionist Movement was the printed word. Beginning in the 1830s, anti-slavery advocates printed countless numbers of newspapers, pamphlets and books that challenged the slave system.
The mass production of anti-slavery literature provided a booming voice for abolitionists as they exposed the horrors of slavery in Cincinnati and across the country. The National Underground Railroad Freedom Center celebrates the power of the Anti-Slavery Press by sharing with others an authentic printing press that was used in Cincinnati, Ohio during the 1850s.
In the Freedom Center’s From Slavery to Freedom exhibition, visitors can read about anti-slavery publications like William Lloyd Garrison’s The Liberator and Frederick Douglass’ The North Star. Additionally, visitors can learn about The Philanthropist, an anti-slavery newspaper published in Cincinnati by former slave owner James Birney.
—Cori Sisler, Manager of Exhibitions and Collections
In recently reading Kate White’s book of the same title, I was struck by her tips for “masterfully managing your boss.” Who doesn’t want to know how to do that? And, as a boss, I realize that it may not be such a bad thing to be masterfully managed.
Many places have a 60 or 90-day performance review when a new person steps into a position; I recommend this. People need feedback; they also need to show that they are meeting expectations (and you need to know that your expectations have been made clear!). Take the time to make this happen. It will be good for you, your organization, and the new person on the block!
With that being said, it only takes days of starting to work with someone to have a pretty good sense of whether that person is a good boss or a bad one. If you’ve snagged a good one – good for you! If you’ve snagged a bad one – the situation still has potential! Of course, if your boss is really incompetent or is creating a toxic environment, then starting working on your exit strategy. Otherwise, make sure that your boss sees your strengths so that he or she can turn over various projects that will lead to the advancement of your skills, reputation and goals. With opportunities and credit you can shoot for the stars!
Let’s get to Kate’s tips, shall we?
Bonus time! Listen up because this is SO IMPORTANT.
“Employees sometimes make the mistake of thinking that since they’re already established in the company, the new boss is the one who has to prove herself [or himself], and that they’re fairly well protected. Wrong. New bosses frequently have carte blanche to overhaul the department and get rid of anyone who doesn’t appear to be on board.” Be on board people! Let your boss know that you are excited about the possibilities he or she brings, that you are willing to do what you are asked, that you are thoughtful and that you are more than happy to take a lead role during transition/change. Above all, remember, it takes effort to get ahead (or even to stay where you are!).
Dina Bailey - @NURFCdina
Director of Museum Experiences
National Underground Railroad Freedom Center
Bessie Coleman or "Queen Bess" became the first African American woman to hold an international pilot license. In 1915, Coleman moved to Chicago, Illinois and found work as a manicurist. She was enthralled by stories she overheard from pilots returning home from WWI and decided to pursue her dream of becoming a pilot.
Coleman was unable to find a school or a pilot that would train an African American woman in the U.S. It wasn't until 1920 that she finally gained financial backing from banker Jesse Binga and the African American newspaper, the Chicago Defender, to study abroad at the Federation Aeronautique Internationale (FAI) in France.
On June 15, 1921, Coleman became the first woman and the first African American woman to earn a pilot's license from the FAI and returned to the United States a media darling. Soon after, Coleman made a name for herself as a stunt flyer and had aspirations of establishing a school for African American aviators before her untimely death in April of 1926 at the age of 34.
See the courageous and daring story of Bessie Coleman in And Still We Rise: Race, Culture and Visual Conversations open now through Sept. 1 #AndStillWeRise
-Assia Johnson, Public Relations and Social Media Coordinator
On Nov. 11, 2013 at 6 p.m. the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center will host a public program honoring the contributions of African Americans in the military. Called to Arms is a Veterans Day program that will explore the legacies of military service from the lens of African Americans. In celebrating Veterans Day, there are a number of African Americans who are deserving of praise and acknowledgement. My father, who served in the U.S. Navy, would often tell me the story of Dorie Miller when I was a child. When my father spoke of Dorie Miller, he had nothing but pride in his voice.
Following training at the Naval Training Station in Norfolk, Va., Dorie Miller was assigned to the ammunition ship USS Pyro (AE-1) where he served as a Mess Attendant, and then was transferred to the USS West Virginia (BB-48), where he became the ship's heavyweight boxing champion. In July of 1940 he had temporary duty aboard the USS Nevada (BB-36) at Secondary Battery Gunnery School. He returned to West Virginia and on 3 August, and was serving in that battleship when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941. Miller had arisen at 6 a.m., and was collecting laundry when the alarm for general quarters sounded. He headed for his battle station only to discover that torpedo damage had wrecked it, so he went on deck. Because of his physical prowess, he was assigned to carry wounded fellow Sailors to places of greater safety. Then an officer ordered him to the bridge to aid the mortally wounded Captain of the ship. He subsequently manned a 50 caliber Browning anti-aircraft machine gun until he ran out of ammunition and was ordered to abandon ship. Of the 1,541 men on the West Virginia during the attack, 130 were killed and 52 wounded. Dorie Miller was commended by the Secretary of the Navy and he received the Navy Cross for his extraordinary courage in battle.
The story of Dorie Miller is one of many among the legacy of African Americans serving in the military. Stories like the Dorie Miller symbolizes the cornerstones of freedom, courage, cooperation and perseverance. Join us on Nov. 11, 2013 at 6 p.m. for Called to Arms and celebrate the legacies of African American’s military service.
- Christopher Miller, Manager of Program Initiatives
Twelve years after the British colony of Jamestown was founded in Virginia, the first Dutch ship brought several African men and women to the colony in 1619. These people may have been indentured servants, but they were probably sold as slaves. Over the next two centuries, the colonies expanded along the eastern coast from Georgia to Canada. In the Chesapeake colonies of Delaware, Maryland and Virginia, slavery was the predominant way of organizing labor. By 1790, nearly forty percent of the population in the British colonies were enslaved.
Tobacco was a major cash crop in the Chesapeake colonies. During the 1700s, many plantation owners were able to increase their fortunes by selling tobacco to Europeans and Africans. The vast majority of tobacco during the late 16th century was cultivated by slave labor. Slaves planted, harvested, cured and packaged tobacco in an extremely labor intensive process. You can learn more about the colonial cultivation methods of tobacco here. Between 1619 and 1775, generations of enslaved people labored in the American colonies to create wealth for their owners.
— Cori Sisler, Manager of Exhibitions and Collections
This website was funded by the U.S. Department of Education Underground Railroad Educational and Cultural (URR) Program