Brad Pitt Producing Film About Black Man Kidnapped in D.C. and Sold into Slavery

Brad Pitt is producing an adaption of “Twelve Years a Slave.” The memoirs were written by Solomon Northup, who as a free black man in 1841, was kidnapped and sold into slavery in D.C.

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Solomon Northup was kidnapped in 1840s D.C. and held in a slave pen in the shadow of the U.S. Capitol.

The book chronicles how Northup was tricked by two men in New York who said they wanted to hire him to play violin for a circus stationed in D.C. The three traveled to the District, where funeral observances for President William Harrison were taking place. According to his account, Northup was drugged and resting in the back room of a hotel when he was taken to a slave pen close to the National Mall:


It was like a farmer’s barnyard in most respects, save it was so constructed that the outside world could never see the human cattle that were herded there.

The building to which the yard was attached, was two stories high, fronting on one of the public streets of Washington. Its outside presented only the appearance of a quiet private residence. A stranger looking at it, would never have dreamed of its execrable uses. Strange as it may seem, within plain sight of this same house, looking down from its commanding height upon it, was the Capitol. The voices of patriotic representatives boasting of freedom and equality, and the rattling of the poor slave’s chains, almost commingled. A slave pen within the very shadow of the Capitol!

Northup was taken to Louisiana as a slave and wasn’t able to escape for another 12 years. A film about his journey is being welcomed by those panning the recent film “The Help” as another “Noble White Ladies Meet the Civil Rights Movement” movie, as Alyssa Rosenberg of ThinkProgress writes:

It would be so useful and powerful to tell a story… that explains that the direction from slavery to freedom wasn’t always a one-way journey, that demonstrates the reaches of the vast jaws of the market for slaves, that situates bondage not just in a vanished, Spanish moss-draped Deep South, but on Mall in Washington, DC where we inaugurated the first black president.

D.C. a Plantation, Congress its ‘Massuh?’ Councilman Explains.

D.C. Councilman Michael A. Brown appeared on conservative talk radio WMAL, and as noted by Mike DeBonis and DCist, offered these thoughts:

“They can treat us as their guinea pigs, they can treat us as a petri dish, and as I called it, they treat us as a colony or a plantation,” said Michael A. Brown, DC council member at-large. Brown was one of six council members arrested along with Mayor Vincent Gray at a protest fueled by anger at the federal government’s budget deal.

“What’s next, we have to call them ‘massuh’?” said Brown.

Flickr: Andrew Bossi

D.C. Councilman Michael A. Brown was arrested April 11, along with other city officials, during a protest against the Congressional budget deal.

We asked Councilman Brown to explain his comment further after his appearance on the Kojo Nnamdi Show today, and he said it was “a little taken out of context.”

“I definitely said it, and I’ve said it before. But in context, some of the folks on the Hill treat us like a plantation here in the District of Columbia,” he said. “And when you use the term plantation it means, in context, it means folks want us to call them massuhs. But it’s in context of the plantation discussion as to how we’re treated on the Hill.”

The rhetoric surrounding D.C. statehood has been growing more and more heated in recent weeks, most notably with Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton saying Congress’ budget actions were the equivalent of “bombing innocent civilians.” It also isn’t new to use the history and legacy of slavery power dynamics when talking about D.C. independence. In 2007, then-Mayor Adrian Fenty declared that D.C. Emancipation Day would be dedicated to “the continued pursuit for full democracy” with a voting rights march to the U.S. Capitol to demand representation in Congress.

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