Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Harriet Tubman pays visit to the Upper Moreland Historical Asso at the Upper Moreland Library

With tears in her eyes and often upon her cheek, a very convincing Millicent Sparks portrayed Harriet Tubman, the most famous "conductor" on The Underground Railroad.

The photo below of Sparks is from here. Impossible to copy it from the website, so I took a photo of it on my laptop.

She entered the room singing. And throughout her hour-long performance, songs of the day peppered her life-like speaking. It was almost impossible to believe that this bundled-up woman, in warm sweater and long skirt, with a satchel that carried her belongings, was not the real Harriet Tubman.

Millicent Sparks as Harriet Tubman, whose birth dates are estimated to be 1820 to 1913. After she found freedom in Philadelphia and then Canada, she ran at least 19 missions to rescue more than 300 slaves in 10 years.

She was helped by many groups including the Quakers and a network of antislavery activists and abolitionists, including the white John Brown of Harpers Ferry fame.

Speaking about Brown, Tubman walked down the aisle singing, "John Brown's body lies a'moldering in the grave." His revolt gave great hope to the slaves that one day they would be free.

Will the real Harriet Tubman please stand up?

Deeply religious, she said The Lord never blessed me with children.

She was raised on a farm in Dorchester County, MD, where she did not escape cruelty, even as a young child. When she was about six, the master's wife told her to hold out her arms and in them she put a baby who was so heavy, she had to sit on the floor to hold him.

Her job was to put him to bed and rock him in the cradle.

So, what dyou think a little child does at night when she's sposed to be rocking the cradle?

That right, said Tubman. I falls asleep.

A painful whipping ensued.

The worst injury she ever suffered was when her master asked her to go to the store to buy a few items.

There was a commotion in the store. A slavemaster had chased one of his slaves who was trying to escape. He asked Tubman, who, in those days, was called Araminta or "Minty" to stop him as he ran out the door.

She refused and the master flung a two-pound weight at her head, causing a deep bleeding gash in the back of her head. Tubman told the audience if she hadn't been wearing a thick scarf over her huge puffed-out hairdo, "I would be dead."

After that, she began to have visions and an unfailing belief the Lord was on her side. She made many miraculous escapes when she was being chased by people who would be handsomely rewarded for capturing her - $40,000!

One time she was riding a train when the bounty hunter boarded the train. She was known to be illiterate so she held up a newspaper in front of her face.

Upside down.

She married a free man while they both worked on the plantation.

Why did they marry?

"You need love," she said. "I loved and trusted the Lord, but I wanted a man to love me."

Her husband was a free black man named John Tubman. After the marriage she changed her name to Harriet Tubman. Her mother's name was Harriet. When her husband refused to escape with her, Tubman went by herself, she said to a packed room w/ no empty seats, and three children in the audience.

 With deep pride, she told us "I never lost a passenger." On one of her last trips down, she brought the most difficult passengers: her two elderly parents who indeed made it to freedom.

Free slaves served their country in the Union Army.

During the Civil War, she acted as a nurse and a cook. And a spy. Many freed slaves, she said proudly, fought on the Union side.

Don't you have any questions for me? she asked. Or do you think you knows everything?

Hands went up.

She admired people who asked questions. That's how you learn, she said, and education is the new underground railroad. You got to get educated.

What's your name? she asked a boy in the last row.

Donovan, he said.

And what school dyou go to?

I'm home-schooled, he said.

Tubman thanked his mother for introducing him to the importance of education.

She also mentioned that there were no 'brothers or sisters' in the audience, though a hefty bro came in late with his camera. Standing next to him is Joe Thomas, who is so hard of hearing I can't imagine he heard a darn thing.

I didn't take notes but relied on Wiki and a bit of my own memory. I sure hope Millicent knows how much we enjoyed her talk.

Take a look at this great photo of her here. I wanted to thank her on FB, but they didn't have FB in the previous century.

She ended up her long life in Auburn, NY in an old-age home she founded for African-Americans.

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