Thirty Years a Slave

Thirty Years a Slave : From Bondage to Freedom: The Autobiography of Louis Hughes: The Institution of Slavery as Seen on the Plantation in the Home of the Planter

4.13 (253 ratings by Goodreads)
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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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Product details

  • Paperback | 154 pages
  • 137.2 x 208.3 x 10.2mm | 181.44g
  • NewSouth Books
  • Montgomery, Albania
  • English
  • Revised ed.
  • 1588380912
  • 9781588380913

Review quote

"The re-publication of Louis Hughes' Thirty Years A Slave is a remarkable achievement. Randall Williams' introduction places this classic work in the proper context for all new readers. Riveting, powerful, this a must read for those who seek to understand contemporary America." --Molefi Kete Asante, author of The Afrocentric Idea, and 51 other books
"Thirty Years a Slave offers one of the most detailed first-hand descriptions of slavery available in the entire slave narrative tradition. In his under-appreciated autobiography, Louis Hughes accomplishes the remarkable literary feat of recording with equal conviction both the injustices of slavery and the capacities of African Americans, while enduring enslavement, to resist demoralization and victimhood." --William L. Andrews, E. Maynard Adams Professor of English, UNC-Chapel Hill
"From the moment I opened Louis Hughes' Thirty Years a Slave, I could not put it down. Every page brought surprises and revelations, giving life to America's haunted past." --Richard Poe, author of Black Spark, White Fire
"In this absorbing account, first published in 1897, Hughes describes mundane yet evocative pieces of everyday life ... and astonishing events like his numerous attempts to escape bondage and his subsequent recapture. He writes with subtlety about his "masters" hypocrisy ... Reflective moments like this make the re-publication of this memoir very welcome." --Publishers Weekly
"The self-liberation of thousands of African-Americans held in bondage is one of the great stories in the ongoing human struggle against oppression ... Louis Hughes' narrative is one of the most informative, insightful, and hopeful accounts of how Americans of color created their own freedom in the midst of a slave society." --Richard Newman, Senior Research Officer W.E.B. Du Bois Institute for Afro-American Research, Harvard University
"Hughes's autobiography is richly filled with the details of plantation culture and slave life, from the making of clothes to a variety of religious services." --The Commercial Appeal
"A riveting firsthand account of slavery ... a convincing historical document, pithy social commentary and enduring literary masterpiece ... Like Tolstoy, Hughes shows us specific individuals wrestling with complex moral issues during a time of profound national upheaval." --Dorothy Wilson
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Rating details

253 ratings
4.13 out of 5 stars
5 40% (100)
4 40% (102)
3 16% (41)
2 2% (4)
1 2% (6)
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