'12 Years a Slave': Solomon Northup's Descendants Gather for THR Photo Shoot, Reflect on His Legacy

This story first appeared in the March 7 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.

It's one of the most visceral depictions of American slavery ever committed to the screen. But it's the fact that 12 Years a Slave is based on the real-life events of Solomon Northup's kidnapping and eventual escape that makes the film truly powerful -- especially for his descendants.

Click the photo to view portraits of Northup's descendants. 

"It was hard to watch, knowing it was someone who had a hand in creating me," says Leonard Holton Jr., 28, a fourth great-grandson of Northup who lives in Alexandria, Va. Many in Northup's direct lineage have known about their ancestor's odyssey from an early age -- he has been the subject of many a school project -- and several return to his hometown of Saratoga Springs, N.Y., annually for the city's Solomon Northup Day, which just celebrated its 15th year. Still, seeing their forefather's ordeal writ large has stirred fresh emotions and renewed hopes that Northup's story -- and, by extension, the personal experience of all slaves -- will not be forgotten.

"My high school friends never absorbed it too well: 'Oh, I didn't know it was like that,' " says Carol Adams-Sally, 72, of Waterloo, N.Y. "Oh please. All you had to do was open your eyes." She can take heart that future generations in her own family and beyond now are paying attention.

VIDEO: Solomon Northup Descendant Says Watching '12 Years a Slave' 'Felt Like It Was Me'

"Growing up hearing the story and then seeing it gave me mixed feelings," says Milan Linzy, 15, of Valencia, Calif. "I was upset because of what happened, but excited that I finally got to see this real thing." Despite their generational, geographic and, yes, racial diversity, Northup's heirs identify common threads. Says Rebecca Bicksler, a white fifth-generation descendant who lives in upstate New York: "There are people in our family who are very strong, and I think they get that from Solomon's side."

Rochester, N.Y.

1. MELISSA LINZY ARCHIE: 48, registered nurse, 3rd great-granddaughter

2. NAPATHALYAH PARKER: 10 months, 5th great-grandson

3. LYNETTE PEREZ: 35, insurance customer service rep, 4th great-granddaughter

4. DEIRDRE LINZY: declined to give age, administrative assistant, 3rd great-granddaughter

5. ALEXANDRIA WARE: 21, supermarket supervisor, 4th great-granddaughter

6. MELISSA HOWELL: 42, arts manager, 3rd great-granddaughter

7. ELAINE COOPER-JOHNSON: 64, retired, 3rd great-granddaughter

8. JOSHUA FARR: 24, forklift driver, 4th great-grandson

9. REBECCA BICKSLER: 43, postal service worker, 3rd great-granddaughter

10. MARIA ZAHOS: 31, sales trainer, 3rd great-granddaughter

11. DIANA RUSS: 32, electronics operator and backup singer, 4th great-granddaughter

12. LORI WILLIAMS: 49, teaching assistant, 3rd great-granddaughter

13. CAROL ADAMS-SALLY: 72, retired, 2nd great-granddaughter

VIDEO: Steve McQueen Surprises Solomon Northup's Descendants During Emotional Photoshoot

14. ADRIAN COOPER: 66, retired, 3rd great-grandson

15. LAURA LINZY: 79, retired, 2nd great-granddaughter

16. ALLAN S. COOPER: 63, retired, 3rd great-grandson

17. CHRIS BICKSLER: 21, student, 4th great-grandson

18. MAUREEN VETO: 43, cosmetologist, 4th great-granddaughter

19. KEARI ANTHONY PARKER: 1, 6th great-grandson

20. RICHARD LINZY: 53, vice principal, 3rd great-grandson

21. KYLE FARR: 27, 4th great-grandson

22. LAUREN WILLIAMS: 26, writer, 4th great-granddaughter

23. TARIQ JOSEPH: 8, 5th great-grandson

24. NAJIYA FAYTH PARKER: 2, 6th great-granddaughter

25. DIJONNA PARKER: 21, student, 5th great-granddaughter

26. NUBIAN WADE LINZY: 14, student, 4th great-granddaughter

 

Los Angeles (top photo)

1. MICHAEL DUMAS:  19, student, 5th great-grandson

2. CHERYL NELSON: 67, day care, foster care and adoptive care provider, 2nd great-granddaughter

3. STEVE MCQUEEN: Director, 12 Years a Slave

4. CYNTHIA JACKSON: 63, pharmacy technician, 3rd great-granddaughter

5. EVELYN JACKSON: 64, retired RN, 3rd great-granddaughter

6. JOHNAL DUMAS: 17, student, 5th great-grandson

7. MILAN LINZY: 15, student, 4th great-granddaughter

VIDEO: Solomon Northup Descendants Say He Was 'Somebody Great'

8. JAMAD D. VARNER: 36, food and beverage vendor, 4th great-grandson

9. JOSEPH MICHAEL LINZY: 46, retired, 3rd great-grandson

10. EILEEN JACKSON: 58, RN case manager, 3rd great-granddaughter

11. MICHELLE LINZY: 43, therapist and teacher, 3rd great-granddaughter

12. RONALD JACKSON: 61, welder, 3rd great-grandson

13. DANA WALKER: 45, home health caregiver, 4th great-granddaughter

14. STORMI DUMAS: 21, child-care provider, 5th great-granddaughter

 

Washington, D.C.

1. LEONARD HOLTON JR: 28, restaurant manager, 4th great-grandson

2. JUSTIN GILLIAM: 28, IT consultant, 4th great-grandson

3. AZALEA GILLIAM: 4, 5th great-granddaughter

4. VERA WILLIAMS: "50-plus," IT specialist, 3rd great-granddaughter

5. LAURA CARTER: 46, real estage agent, 4th great-granddaughter

6. JASMINE CARTER: 21, banquet chef,  5th great-granddaughter

7. DARIEN CARTER: 23, recent college grad, 5th great-grandson

 

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