Abdul Rahman Ibrahima Sori: A Prince Among Slaves
JGoode | 2/6/2008, 8:02 p.m.
“I think that it is absolutely critical that we get the story out. Things that don’t always make headlines or receive the media attention they deserve, we don’t always hear or read about in the books. We don’t always get the information, so whenever you have the opportunity to get something that is so dear and that is so amazing as this incredible story, we really have to share it with the entire community,” said Prince Houston committee chair, Dr. Umair A. Shah.
In 1762, a young African Muslim prince born in Timbo, West Africa (now known as Guinea) was named Abdul Rahman Ibrahima Sori. As he became older and stronger, his natural leadership skills were developed. He became a great leader over many men in the army. After winning in battle, he was returning home with his men, and they were ambushed by warring tribes. Torn from his life of privilege and power, Sori was stripped of his royal garments, chained and shackled with his men, and was transformed from a human being to cargo in the eyes of the slave handlers. Now as profitable and highly perishable cargo on the slave ship, Sori was one of many who was transported from Africa to America in the Transatlantic Slave Trade. Those who survived the treacherous voyage found themselves in Natchez, Mississippi. While in Natchez, Sori was bought by plantation owner Thomas Foster. To no avail, Sori explained his wrongful situation, his royal heritage, and how his father would pay double his ransom. Thomas, being a desperate cotton and tobacco farmer, didn’t listen to Sori. He just made a mockery of him and named him Prince. Soon Prince adapted to his surroundings and his new found enslaved life, but he never forgot about his homeland in Africa. Although he had a wife and child in Africa, he thought he would never see them again, so he married another slave, Isabella, in 1794. Through this union several children were born. Prince was unlike most slaves in that he was highly educated which made him a natural born leader with certain privileges. He used his privileges to get word of his enslavement to President John Quincy Adams. After 40 years in slavery, an order for the freedom of Sori and his wife was declared by President Adams and Secretary of State Henry Clay. The newly freed Sori began a campaign to raise funds in hopes of buying the freedom of his children. Though his efforts were mighty, he was only able to raise enough money to free two of his children before returning to Africa and dying there.
Houston was the last stop on the city-to-city tour that began last year in Cincinnati, Ohio. According to executive producer Alex Kronemer the tour was symbolic of the tour Sori took to raise funds to buy his children’s freedom. “We may not be facing so much in the clash of civilizations as we face in a clash of thinking. We don’t always understand each other’s thinking. We don’t always understand each other’s stories and much that divides us as a country is not knowing these stories and not understanding what these stories mean. This necessitated the making of a documentary film,” said Kronemer about why he created this documentary.
Viewers at the Houston premiere saw more than just a movie screening. They saw a show. Spiritual song stylists called Progress Theater performed a freedom song reminiscent of those sung by slaves desiring freedom. MJ, a spoken word artist, further enhanced the mood with a poem. One highlight was the remembrance of the true legacy of Sori by celebrating his education. The Prince Houston committee chairs, Dr. Umair A. Shah and Tammie Lang Campbell, presented The Urban Experience Program on the University of Houston campus with a $1,000 scholarship since it was Sori’s education and faith that ultimately set him free.
“Prince Among Slaves,” narrated by Mos Def, aired nationally on Monday, February 4, 2008, on PBS. For more information about getting your own copy of this piece of history log on to www.upf.tv. or www.pbs.org.