POINT PLEASANT — One of the most notable figures associated with the Underground Railroad, Harriet Tubman helped many other slaves escape to freedom, a story that is still ongoing through the West Virginia Humanities Council History Alive program and performer Ilene Evans.
On Monday morning and afternoon, Evans presented “General Moses: Stories from the Life of Harriet Tubman — Her Escape on the Underground Railroad” to Point Pleasant Intermediate School (PPIS) students and staff. According to PPIS Technology Integration Specialist Kathy Rollins, this presentation was paid for by a grant from the Dickens Family Teacher Grants of Our Community Foundation.
“We want to welcome Harriet Tubman to our county and support her work for freedom,” PPIS Principal Shawn Hawkins read at the assembly. “She is an American heroine whose strength and vision and determination inspired many to work for freedom-each in their own way.”
During her presentation, Evans demonstrated one aspect of a slave’s life by illustrating a “chain gang.” Using a group of students, she explained that when a group of slaves were moved from one place to the other, they would be chained together with chains going from one person’s neck to the other, as well as chains on their hands and feet. Evans also pointed out the group of slaves had to move as one since they were chained together; when the person in front took a step with their right foot, all those behind had to, as well.
In addition to some stories on Tubman’s life, Evans also demonstrated a way slaves sent information from one plantation to the other, a method she referred to as “the grapevine.” Along with some student volunteers, Evans gave a message to one student, who had to repeat the message to ensure it was correct, and then run over to the next student to relay the message. Evans stressed the importance of repeating the message because it was essential it be correct, since messages can often become distorted when going from one source to the other. If the information was passed on incorrectly, even by the smallest mistake, it would misinform the slave receiving the message and in turn they may miss something which could affect their escape to freedom.
“It takes courage to be free,” Evans said as Harriet Tubman.
In addition to portraying Tubman in this presentation, Evans’ other current projects include “Behind Enemy Lines,” a look at Harriet Tubman’s role in the Civil War, as a freedom fighter. She also portrays lesser known African American heroines such as Memphis Tennessee Garrison, Coralie Franklin Cook, Susie King Taylor and Carrie Williams. For more on Evans and her work, visit www.ilene-evans.com.