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Features

February 18, 2014

Melting pot gives us great food, oustanding reads

One of the overarching goals of Black History Month is to teach us not only about historical facts, but about the indomitable human spirit and its courage in the face of intolerable conditions. It is remarkable that we have personal accounts authored by individuals who suffered through the most soul-crushing circumstances of slavery before the Civil War, but through perseverance and undaunted fortitude endured one day at a time and lived to tell about it. There exists in these individual stories a wisdom that can teach us how to retain our humanity in the face of even the most inhumane treatment.

Frederick Douglass’s story published in 1845 is perhaps the most well-known memoir of this kind, outselling both “Moby Dick” and “Walden” at the time. His description of his early life and experiences on plantations in Maryland and the cruel treatment of slaves under the overseer, Mr. Severe, documents how a great man is made by his reaction to his circumstances. It endures today as a classic that is commonly studied in American schools.

Many self-authored slave narratives that were very popular in their day, however, did not endure into our time. One such is “Twelve Years a Slave: Narrative of Solomon Northrup, Citizen of New York, Kidnapped in Washington City in 1841 and Rescued in 1853 from a Cotton Plantation near the Red River in Louisiana,” now set to win an Oscar as a major motion picture. Northrup’s account, dedicated to Harriet Beacher Stowe, tells of this birth as a freeman to good parents in New York, his marriage to Anne and their pursuit of better jobs to provide a good life for their three children. His early life could be the story of every man until three strangers enticed him to seek employment some distance from his home. Spending the night in Washington, D.C., a city ironically mired in the slave economy, was the unknowing turn in his being drugged, kidnapped, and sold to a Louisiana plantation owner when he was 30 years old. He remained in this condition for 12 years until his rescue by members of the Northrup family, the original masters of his father’s people.

Northrup’s account of his enslavement is at once the juxtaposition of great friendship and kindness found in slavery countered by immense cruelty and horrid conditions. Because of the age of his published memoir, it exists in the public domain and can be read online for free. Go to http://docsouth.unc.edu/fpn/northup/northup.html to read this and other primary source documents compiled by the University of North Carolina’s Documenting the American South project.

America’s great melting pot has given us a wonderful culinary wealth representing the diversity of our country. One example is Edward Lee, owner of bar-b-que emporium, 610 Magnolia in Louisville, Kentucky. Raised in New York by a family of Korean immigrants, Lee’s new cookbook “Smoke & Pickles” mingles the best techniques of his Korean upbringing with flavors of the American South. His pulled pork in special bar-b-que sauce has a friendly burn that will ignite and delight your taste buds.

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