Thirty Years a Slave - From Bondage to Freedom

The Institution of Slavery as Seen on the Plantation and in the Home of the Planter

Louis Hughes

Foreword by William L. Andrews

Title Details

Pages: 160

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Formats

Paperback

Pub Date: 03/01/2002

ISBN: 9-781-5883-8091-3

List Price: $15.95

eBook

Pub Date: 03/01/2002

ISBN: 9-781-6030-6078-3

List Price: $15.95

Imprint

NewSouth Books

Thirty Years a Slave - From Bondage to Freedom

The Institution of Slavery as Seen on the Plantation and in the Home of the Planter

Louis Hughes

Foreword by William L. Andrews

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  • Description
  • Reviews

Louis Hughes was born as an enslaved person in Virginia and at age twelve was sold away from his mother, whom he never saw again. Sold to a wealthy slaveowner, who had a home near Memphis and plantation nearby in Mississippi, Hughes was held in bondage as an enslaved house servant for three decades. Near the end of the Civil War, he escaped to the Union lines with the paid help of two Union soldiers. Hughes later returned to the plantation to liberate his wife, and the couple made their way to safety in Canada. After the war, they traveled to Chicago and Detroit, eventually settling in Milwaukee as free people. 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 first-hand account of his enslavement and treatment from slaveowners. No reader can be unmoved as Hughes tells about his five attempts to escape or having to stand by helplessly while watching his wife being whipped. He also recounts the joy of finally reuniting with his brother, whom he had not seen since they were little children in Virginia. Hughes's story is a testimony to the human spirit and his courageous act of self-liberation in the face of oppression, injustice, and terror.

The re-publication of Louis Hughes's Thirty Years a Slave is a remarkable achievement. Randall Williams's introduction places this classic work in the proper context for all new readers. Riveting, powerful, this is a must-read for those who seek to understand contemporary America.

—Molefi Kete Asante, author of The Afrocentric Idea and 51 other books

From the moment I opened Louis Hughes's 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

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

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

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

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's 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

About the Author/Editor

LOUIS HUGHES (1832-1913) was an African American enslaved person born in Virginia. He was enslaved for over thirty years, spending most of that time in Tennessee. During that time, he learned in secret how to read and write. Thirty-three years after gaining freedom at the end of the Civil War, he wrote his memoir Thirty Years a Slave, published in 1897. It is considered an essential text for understanding the experience of slavery in western Tennessee. Hughes died in Milwaukee in 1913.