Omar ibn Said was born into a well-educated family around the year 1770 in Futa Toro, in contemporary Senegal. In his thirties he was kidnapped, enslaved, and transported to Charleston, South Carolina. He escaped from his first enslaver and was later imprisoned in Fayetteville, North Carolina. Jim Owen, brother to the governor of North Carolina, purchased Sayyid, and he spent the next fifty-three years of his life with the Owens. Said went on to write a series of manuscripts in Arabic which draw broadly from a range of theological sources, defying the American misconception that African slaves were uneducated and uncultured. Said is most famous for being the only known enslaved person in the United States to write an autobiography in Arabic. His writings attest to robust educational traditions and systems in West Africa, as well as to enslaved peoples’ resistance to the conditions of the American South. Said died in 1864, just a year before the American Civil War ended.
Join Carolina K-12, the NC Museum of History, and UNC’s Center for Middle East and Islamic Studies to learn about the incredible life, work and resistance of Omar Ibn Said, as well as the often-overlooked role of Muslims in Antebellum America. Participating scholars include:
+Naomi Feaste, an independent scholar in the Triangle, who will provide an overview of Muslims in Antebellum America
+Dr. Carl Ernst, a preeminent scholar in Islamic Studies at UNC currently investigating and translating Said’s manuscripts, who will discuss the life and writings of Said
+Yasmine Flodin-Ali, a Ph.D. student in Religious Studies at UNC, who will illuminate the portrayal and racialization of Said in period newspapers
+Bryan Rusch, a Ph.D. Student of Art History at Duke University, who will locate Omar’s life journey spatially using his writings and historic documents as a guide
This program is open to any K-12 educator/staff member, as well as those at the community college or university level.