The historian who unearthed "Twelve Years a Slave"Historians in the News
tags: slavery, 12 Years a Slave, Sue Eakin
Accepting the Oscar for Best Picture on Sunday—technically, it might have been Monday at that point—Steve McQueen took a moment to thank “this amazing historian Sue Eakin,” who “gave her life’s work to preserving Solomon’s book.” It was an unusual shout-out: we’re used to seeing Harvey Weinstein or God get thanked, not historians from Louisiana. But it’s safe to say that without Eakin, who died in 2009, at the age of ninety, none of us would be talking about Solomon Northup, or Patsey, or the other once-forgotten souls portrayed in this year’s Best Picture.
Eakin, who taught at Louisiana State University at Alexandria for twenty-five years, spent her career rescuing Northup’s memoir from obscurity. “There were five of us, and Solomon was the sixth,” Eakin’s son Frank said the other day, from his home in Texas. “There was never a time when he was not part of the conversation.” Eakin grew up near Cheneyville, Louisiana, the eldest of nine children, and discovered Northup when she was twelve. One summer day in 1931, her father, a planter, drove her in a flatbed truck to the nearby town of Bunkie, not far from the property once owned by Edwin Epps (the Michael Fassbender character). They were visiting Oak Hall Plantation, where her father had business with the owner, Sam Haas. Haas brought young Sue to the library on the second floor (“My mom was a big-time bookworm,” Frank says), where he handed her a dusty copy of “Twelve Years a Slave,” first published in 1853....
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