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Presenting Twelve Years a Slave by Solomon Northup and Thirty Years a Slave by Louis Hughes with illustrations by Nicholas Tamblyn and Katherine Eglund. These classics are part of The Great Books Series by Golding Books.

African American literature is rich with novels and works of nonfiction, but necessarily this literature in the 19th Century is often sadly defined by or confined to slave narratives and slave memoirs, and the beauty and inspiring truths of these narratives show just what was lost by the oppression and injustices forced on those kept in chains and made to undertake harsh labor. Black history was often recorded by those unfairly prejudiced against people of color (and other groups), and yet excellent works emerged that endure to this day as singular examples not only of early American memoirs or slave autobiographies but books of quality writing and compelling ideas that speak to people in all times and places around the world.

Solomon Northup was born in Minerva, New York, in 1807 or 1808. His father Mintus was a freedman who had been a slave earlier in life in service to the Northup family. As their mother was a free woman (described as three-quarters European and one-quarter African American), Solomon and his brother Joseph were born free and received a high level of education. In his early twenties, Northup married Anne Hampton (she was of African, European, and Native American descent); they owned a farm in Hebron and had three children. Northup worked in various jobs, including as a raftsman and playing the fiddle. At age 32, while traveling for prospective jobs in New York City, Northup was abducted and sold into slavery. After regaining his freedom, he became active in the abolitionist movement and lectured on slavery numerous times in the years before the Civil War. The details of his death are not certain, but it is postulated that Northup died in 1863.

Louis Hughes was born to a white plantation owner and black slave in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 1832. Jack McGee (or McGehee), a cotton plantation owner in Pontotoc, Mississippi, purchased Hughes as a child; Hughes later went to Memphis, Tennessee, to work on the construction of McGee's second home. He tried a number of times to run away but failed, and in 1858 he married Matilda Morgan and they had children soon after. During the Civil War, Hughes was sent to labor at a salt works in Tombigbee, Alabama; he was then finally liberated from slavery in late 1865 after the conclusion of the war. He never found his mother again, but he was able to bring his family to safety with the help of two Union soldiers. After traveling north searching for loved ones, they finally settled in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where Hughes worked as a professional nurse. His autobiography, Thirty Years a Slave: From Bondage to Freedom, was published in 1897. Hughes died in 1913.

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