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161 years later, New York Times corrects its '12 Years a Slave' story

161 years later, New York Times corrects its '12 Years a Slave' story


Newspaper acknowledges misspellings after film adaptation wins the Oscar for best picture

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The New York Times today published corrections to a story that ran more than 150 years ago, thanks to the twin forces of Twitter and Hollywood. The article, published on January 20th, 1853, describes the story of Solomon Northup, a freed African-American who was kidnapped and sold into slavery. Northup's memoir, Twelve Years a Slave, was turned into the movie that won the Oscar for best picture at Sunday's Academy Awards in Los Angeles.

A Twitter user uncovered the old Times article following this week's ceremony, and it quickly spread across social media, shedding light on a rather egregious error that had gone unnoticed for 161 years. As the newspaper acknowledged today, Northup's name was misspelled twice in the article — in the headline, it appeared as Northrup, and in the body, it was spelled Northrop.

Errors aside, the Times did acknowledge the gravity of Northup's case, describing it as "a more complete and authentic record than has yet appeared," adding that he was "sometimes compelled to perform acts revolting to humanity, and outrageous in the highest degree." A few months later, the paper mentioned the release of Northup's book, noting simply: "It will be read widely."