Harriet Tubman Actress
Harriet Tubman Actress
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She was one of the most prominent figures in Maryland and US history, and in black and woman’s history. Harriet Tubman was born into slavery in 1822 in Dorchester County, MD on the Eastern Shore. In her long life she accomplished much but she is most well known as being a conductor on the Underground Railroad. She led 13 sorties north through Maryland and Delaware to Philadelphia and in so doing led more than 70 slaves to freedom.
Harriet Tubman was the subject of the second day of the three-day Chautauqua 2011 series Wednesday at the College of Southern Maryland, La Plata campus. Portraying Tubman was Gwendolyn Briley-Strand, who for the last 20 years has made a career of telling Tubman’s story through a one-woman show and on audio and video. Her performance at CSM was the first of six on successive days around the state at community colleges and other venues.
Appearing on stage as Tubman, Briley-Strand addressed the audience as if she were giving a pep talk to a group of runaway slaves readying for a trip on the Underground Railroad. She told of her birth into slavery, of being whipped by her master, of the threat of being sold down south.
She told of witnessing first hand an attempt by a slave on her plantation to run away and stepping between him and the master and getting hit by a lead weight on the side of the head that was intended for the runaway. One day while tolling in the field a white Quaker woman who was passing by, saw her, motioned her over, and asked about the scar on the side of her face. The woman told her if she ever needed refuge she could come to her house just outside Cambridge and if the light was on she could come inside and be safe.
As she was growing up she had heard other slaves talking about the Underground Railroad. “I believed there was a deep underground tunnel from the South and the North.” She also believed there was a conductor and ironically she in fact did become later in life one of those figurative conductors.
Eventually the fear of being sold into a chain gang led her to that safe house outside Cambridge and eventually to Philadelphia where she was able to make some money and return to Maryland to help free the slaves. She told those imaginary slaves assembled in the Fine Arts Building that their trek north would be difficult. But, “Freedom don’t come cheap,” she said.
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