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12 Years a Slave author Solomon Northup is getting a lot of attention thanks to the Oscar-nominated film based on his memoir, but perhaps his greatest legacy is his family, who have been taught since childhood about their famous ancestor’s story.
As part of The Hollywood Reporter‘s Oscar issue, THR gathered together more than two dozen of Northup’s descendants in Rochester, N.Y. for a photo shoot.
Tracking down his living descendants fell to THR features director Jeanie Pyun, who located Melissa Howell, Northup’s third great-granddaughter, on a tip from a Saratoga, N.Y.-based photographer. Howell contacted fellow descendants Michelle Linzy and Vera Williams, who in turn contacted other family members. In all, THR held three shoots, with the others taking place in Los Angeles and Washington, D.C.
“I remember being told about it when I was in high school. My mother had gotten a copy of the book printed and copies made for each one of the children,” says Carol Adams-Sally, a second great-granddaughter.
Elaine Cooper-Johnson, a third great-granddaughter, says she is “very proud that we had somebody great in our family.”
If people take away a message from the film, she’d like it to be that “The past is in the past and we should go on with the future, and we should do better.”
“He’s a part of history now. Before it was just a book, and now it’s this movie directed by Steve McQueen. Everyone knows who Steve McQueen is. And Brad Pitt,” says Lynette Perez, a fourth great-granddaughter.
Northup’s New York-based descendants were photographed by Wesley Mann on Feb. 16 at the George Eastman House in Rochester, N.Y. Click here to see video of Washington, D.C.-based descendants, and click here for West Coast-based descendants, who received a surprise visit from 12 Years a Slave director Steve McQueen. Read more about Northup’s family and see exclusive photos of them here.
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