MARKSVILLE, LOUISIANA —
The people of Marksville, Louisiana, threw a celebration recently to mark the visit of five descendants of "12 Years a Slave" author Solomon Northup.
Northup descendant Evelyn Jackson was thrilled by the warm reception.
“If Solomon can look down and see now — there is no hatred," she said. "I have so many people hugging me and congratulating me. I am in awe.”
Some Northup descendants are of mixed racial heritage.
“I didn’t even know I had white cousins," Jackson said. "I have white cousins. So as we learn more, we are all coming together as one.”
Jackson and other descendants came here for the launch of an app for smartphones that helps visitors find various sites on Louisiana’s Solomon Northup Trail.
One of those in attendance, Rodney White, is a descendant of a large local family that once owned slaves. He shared some of his family research with Jackson and other Northup descendants.
One man identified with the evil of slavery was Edwin Epps, who once owned this land. “These fields, on the former Epps plantation in central Louisiana, were the scene of terrible cruelty, according to Solomon Northup’s account,” White said.
For Leon Homes, who visited a restored house that Northup helped build for Epps, the legacy of racial distrust is almost too great to overcome.
“Race will be here forever," he said. "The race issues, I feel as if it is almost something that you are not going to get rid of.”
In Louisiana, the legacy of slavery and subsequent discrimination includes high rates of poverty among blacks and communities divided by race. But some people, including descendants of slave owners, are trying to bridge the barriers.
At the courthouse in Marksville where a judge freed Solomon Northup in 1853, local dignitaries re-enacted the event.
Northup Trail app producer Frank Eakin, whose mother, the late scholar and civil rights activist Sue Eakin, helped authenticate the book "12 Years a Slave," wished she could have seen this mixed-race celebration.
“Mom lived here in this parish and I lived here and, honestly, I never saw anything like this," Eakin said. "I wasn’t sure this was possible until coming here today.”
Frank Eakin said that his mother knew it wouldn’t be easy to heal the wounds left by history, but that he believed, as she did, in making the effort.