Prince Among Slaves is an award-winning documentary that was broadcasted on PBS. It is based on a biography book by professor Terry Alford. It tells the unique story of an African Muslim prince Abdul Rahman Ibrahima, as he experienced the horrors of slavery in the late 1700s. The documentary and the story it tells is extremely captivating as it presents a historical narrative in combination with the tragedy of the emotions caused by slavery in the unjust human society. The historical origins of the Trans-Atlantic slave trade as well as early Muslims in America are explored. The story of the prince was determined based on scholarly accounts and historic documents collected from three continents, which presents a fascinating insight into this person’s journey (Kalin & Duke, 2008).
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Prince Abdul Rahman was born in 1762 in a West African nation known as Futa Jallon. These were agrarian farmers and traders of salt. The population was primarily Muslim. After receiving an education, he entered the army and rose to the rank of a commanding officer. During a skirmish, he was captured and eventually forced into a slave ship named Africa. He experienced a long and horrific journey across the Atlantic. As part of the rapidly growing trans-Atlantic trade, slaves were a commodity. They were faced with brutal and inhumane conditions. Once in America, the prince was sold to slave traders and eventually made his way to New Orleans, and up the Mississippi River to the town of Natchez, where he eventually was sold into labor.
The prince found himself in Natchez in 1788 when a plantation owner, Thomas Foster, purchased him. There, he worked Foster’s land farming tobacco for forty long years. He was living in poor and uncomfortable conditions, publicly humiliated, and having to undergo hard labor that was below his skills and royal status. Even when finding an opportunity to escape, Abdul Rahman had no way to orient himself in the area or know where to go to obtain freedom, choosing to return. The prince built a life on the plantation, rising through the ranks of slaves and gaining respect. He eventually married a Christian woman but chose to retain his Muslim faith. Rahman had the freedom to worship and even received some profit from tending a garden. As a Muslim, who were often poorly adapted to survival in the Americas as slaves, it is extraordinary what the prince was able to achieve.
In 1807, Abdul Rahman encountered by chance an Irish doctor by the name of John Cox, whom the prince’s tribe took care of during his time as a commander in Africa. Cox attempted to purchase Abdul’s freedom from Foster unsuccessfully. They continued their friendship over the years as Cox eventually died and his son continued his father’s efforts to secure freedom for Abdul. The prince’s story fascinated people as it spread in the area. Eventually, Abdul met a book printer and passed a letter that he wished to send back home to Africa through him. The letter was given to Senator Thomas Reed of Mississippi, who passed it along to the Secretary of State Henry Clay. Eventually, President John Adams was involved in seeking the release of Abdul from slavery. Eventually Foster agreed to release Abdul as well as his wife. However, their children remained in captivity for a while longer, until Foster died.
Finally, in 1828, Abdul Rahman and his family were free individuals with overwhelming public support. The prince had the opportunity to meet with Adams and Clay before eventually boarding a ship with other free blacks voyaging back to Africa. A year later, in 1829, Rahman died as decades of labor and hardship weakened his body. This documentary portrays the extraordinary legacy of the prince and historical elements of the slave trade and ownership that impacted his life.
Kalin, A., & Duke, B. (Directors). (2008). Prince among slaves [Video file]. Web.