A multi-Oscar winning film about the American slave trade has resonance for a former lecturer living in Huddersfield.

The critically-acclaimed film, 12 Years A Slave, is based on the “slave narrative” told by Solomon Northup, a free black man living in New York in the 1840s, who was abducted and sold into slavery. Sent to work on plantations in Louisiana, he faced the violence and degradation of life as a slave as well as unexpected kindnesses before securing his release.

The film, starring Chiwetel Ejiofor as Solomon Northup, won three Oscars, including that for best picture.

But 35 years ago, Solomon’s story featured in an academic thesis on Black American literature written by Honley man Dr Sean Molloy as part of his PhD at York University.

During extensive research for his 300-page thesis, Dr Molloy discovered the compelling story in an anthology of slaves’ narratives, called Putting On Old Massa, which was among a wealth of Americana stored in the library at Huddersfield Polytechnic, now the town’s university.

Dr Sean Molloy whose thesis on black American literature features the slave narrative which forms the basis for '12 Years a Slave'
Dr Sean Molloy whose thesis on black American literature features the slave narrative which forms the basis for '12 Years a Slave'
 

Dr Molloy completed his thesis – Black American Literature in Times of Crisis: A Study in Literature and Personal Styles Between 1840 and 1970 – in 1978. Solomon’s was one of three slave narratives he included in the work.

Dr Molloy went on to enjoy a career which included working as a university lecturer in Africa and for the British Council in Krakow, Poland.

He said: “I wrote about Solomon’s narrative at some length in my thesis. His narrative was first published in 1853 and created a lot of controversy at the time.

“There was a rich hoard of argument and polemic both for and against slavery in the years leading up to the American Civil War.

“There were hundreds of these narratives, some written by black slaves themselves who had escaped slavery.

“The former slaves appeared on abolitionist platforms in the USA and in this country and denounced slavery in the years before the civil war and what they said stoked up the fires for war.”

Slavery in the United States was finally abolished in 1864.

Said Dr Molloy: “I did a lot of my research at Leeds University’s Brotherton Library, but there was a real trasure trove of information at Huddersfield Polytechnic. I imagine it’s still in the library at Hudersfield University today.”

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