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Thirty Years a Slave

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Thirty Years a Slave: From Bondage to Freedom

Category: African American
Format: Trade Paper, 160 pages
Pub Date: 2002 Fall
Price: $15.95
ISBN: 978-1-58838-091-3
eBook available for Kindle, Nook, iPad
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Louis Hughes was born a slave in Virginia and at age 12 was sold away from his mother, whom he never saw again. After a few interim owners, he was sold to a wealthy slaveowner who had a home near Memphis and plantation nearby in Mississippi. Hughes lived there as a house servant until near the end of the Civil War, when he escaped to the Union lines and then, in a daring adventure with the paid help of two Union soldiers, returned to the plantation for his wife. The couple made their way to Canada and after the war to Chicago and Detroit, eventually settling in Milwaukee. There Hughes became relatively comfortable as a hotel attendant and as an entrepreneur laundry operator. Self-educated and eloquent, Hughes wrote and privately published this memoir in 1897. It is a compelling account, by turns searing and compassionate about slavery, slaves, and slaveowners. No reader can be unmoved as Hughes tells about his five attempts to escape, about having to stand by helplessly while watching his wife whipped, of the joy of finally meeting again the brother whom he had not seen since they were little children in Virginia. Yet he also writes knowingly about the economics of slavery and the day-to-day business of the plantation, and the glass-house relationships between slaves and masters. Hughes died in Milwaukee in 1913.

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- Hear Randall Williams Discuss Louis Hughes's Thirty Years a Slave (May 29, 2008)