As descendant of '12 Years' author, West End man seeks to educate
Clayton Adams has a personal interest in the story of “12 Years a Slave.”
He is the great-great-great-grandson of Solomon Northup, whose story is told in the wide-release film based on Northup's 1853 autobiography. The film has fueled the West End man's efforts to make sure more people know about his ancestor.
“I want to make sure the story is passed, generation to generation,” he says. “I want to make sure people know the story.”
Adams, 43, is trying to arrange speaking engagements at local schools and theaters to discuss the Northup story.
Such talks are not unusual to him. On Nov. 4, he gave a lecture at Pittsburgh Classical Academy in the West End. Several weeks ago, he was the guest speaker at a fundraiser for the Underground Railroad History Project in Albany, N.Y. That city is not far from Saratoga Springs, where Northup, in 1841, was tricked into joining two men who eventually imprisoned him in a slave pen.
Adams also attends — and, sometimes, speaks — at the annual Solomon Northup Day celebration, which began in 1999 in Saratoga Springs and was declared an annual event in 2002 by the town's mayor.
He is a collector of memorabilia from such events and also is the owner of an 1854 rebound edition of “12 Years a Slave.”
Adams was told of Northup's story by his mother when he was growing up in Syracuse, N.Y. But its significance didn't strike him until he was studying black literature at the Cortland campus of the State University of New York.
“Hey, I know that guy,” he recalls saying when he saw a reference to “12 Years a Slave” in a book about slave experiences. He began to research Northup's story and his family, discovering he was descended from Northup's son, Alonzo, who was born in 1836.
Adams, who lives with his wife, India, and four children in the West End, says he was inspired by the dedication Northup had to his family.
“All the time he was in slavery, he kept saying to himself, ‘I just want to get through this if it means I can get back to my family,'” he says.
Such dedication always is the key to family life, he says.
“We all have to support one another,” Adams says.
Bob Karlovits is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at email@example.com or 412-320-7852.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Going inside Big Bird, a film takes wing with Caroll Spinney
- Review: ‘Far From the Madding Crowd’ a period-piece love quadrangle
- Review: ‘I Am Big Bird’ a gentle peek at the guy behind the yellow feathers
- Review: Amazing Randi pulls back the curtain in ‘An Honest Liar’
- Review: ‘Poltergeist’ solid remake of haunted house classic
- Review: New doc puts own ‘Lambert & Stamp’ on Who history
- Review: Tomorrow isn’t what it used to be in ‘Tomorrowland’
- Action, comedy, horror — Summer should be hot at the multiplex