The story of Soloman Northup

22 February, 2013

I’m June Simms.

Today on As It Is, we are serving up some chicken soup. It may not cure your cold but it will probably make you feel better.

And we hear about a 62 year old bird who is still birthing babies.

But first, we tell the story of Soloman Northup. In 1841, this free black man from Saratoga, New York, was kidnapped during a visit to Washington, D.C. He spent the next 12 years of his life as a slave. His story has now been made into an audiobook. Today we hear that story, in Soloman Northup’s own words.

“Having been born a free man and for more than 30 years endured the blessings of liberty in a free state...”

That is the voice of Award-winning actor Louis Gossett, Junior. He is reading the words of Solomon Northup from his autobiography, “Twelve Years a Slave.” The book was first published in 1853. It tells how Northup was kidnapped during a visit to Washington and taken to Louisiana as a slave.

“I thought I must die beneath the lashes of the accursed brute. Even now, the flesh crawls upon my bones as I recall the scene. I was all on fire. My sufferings I can compare to nothing else than the burning agonies of hell.”

Louisiana historian Sue Eakin published a later version of Northup’s autobiography in 1968. Her son Frank says his mother first came across the story as a young girl.

“And she was enthralled because a lot of the last names. The book was about people in that area where she grew up, so the names were familiar, the last names, the locations.”

Frank Eakin says his mother was told that the story of “Twelve Years a Slave” was all make-believe. But she questioned that because of all the details it contained. He says his mother spent years investigating the story.

"A lot of my childhood was on the road traveling with her, and going to courthouses and researching every detail of that story."

Sue Eakin wanted people to know about the cruelty and injustice of slavery described in Solomon Northup’s book. She eventually published scholarly works on the story. Frank Eakin says her efforts gave the story new life.

"It has been recognized now as one of the most compelling firsthand accounts of slavery in existence."

The audiobook of “Twelve Years a Slave” is set to be released this month. A movie version starring Brad Pitt, Paul Giamatti and Chiwetel Ejiofor is set for release later this year.

You are listening to As It Is, reporting on the issues and ideas that matter to you.

I’m June Simms.

The world’s oldest known wild bird has produced a healthy chick. Faith Lapidus reports.

The albatross called Wisdom is about 62 years old. She has raised five chicks since 2006 and about 35 chicks in her lifetime. She gave birth to her newest chick at the Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge in the Pacific Ocean.

Albatross choose a partner for life, but only lay one egg each year. The parents take turns feeding the chick. They may fly 80,000 kilometers each nesting season to find food for their young.

While many albatross are alive today, they face threats like climate change, says John Klavitter, a wildlife biologist on Midway. As the oceans warm, the albatross are forced to go far from their nests in search of food.

“Currently Wisdom or a Laysan albatross, they might have to go 1,000 miles to find squid.”

The other big problem for the birds is plastic. John Klavitter says albatross pick up plastic waste they find floating on the ocean and feed it to their chicks.

“Every year we see albatross bring five tons of plastic and feed it to their chicks at Midway alone.”

Dead chicks are often found with a stomach full of plastic. Mister Klavitter says he is surprised that Wisdom the albatross survived all these threats for so long and is still making eggs that produce chicks. I’m Faith Lapidus.

You are listening to As It Is. I’m June Simms

During flu season, many people turn to the kitchen for help instead of medicine. Every culture seems to have its own special foods to help speed healing. But as Jim Tedder reports, nothing makes the patient feel better than soup.

Barry Koslow works at the DGS Delicatessen, a restaurant in Washington, DC. He uses his grandmother's Eastern European recipe for chicken soup with matzo balls.

“Matzo ball soup is definitely a very traditional Jewish soup. And you see many different variations of it. We start with a very rich chicken broth and we enhance that with onion, celery, carrots and garlic.”

DGS Delicatessen manager Brian Zipin says matzo ball soup is one of the most popular dishes at the restaurant.

“Some people think that there is something in there that has healing powers but like any great comfort food, you feel good when you eat it, you feel better,especially at this time of year, when it’s cold out.”

But, can soup really cure a cold? Gloria Addo-Ayensu is with the Fairfax County Department of Health in Virginia.

“Getting a flu vaccine is the single best way to prevent the influenza.”

Dr. Addo-Ayensu says having hot soup is like having a hot cup of tea with honey and lemon.

“Having something like honey and a little bit of lemon in hot water, might soothe your sore throat, for example. So those kinds of things are more soothing than anything else.”

So, the age old debate continues. But many people do not care if their traditional
‘comfort food’ is really healing or just makes them feel better.

“My mother used to say even if it didn’t help you, it certainly couldn’t hurt.”

"It's just such a comforting type of food in general. It really reminds you of home.”

In the end, it is likely a combination of the two things that is the secret behind the healing power of soup; memories that warm your heart and the pleasant smell ofsteam that clears your breathing passages. I’m Jim Tedder.

Well that’s AS IT IS for today. I’m June Simms.