Harriet Tubman performance opens lecture series

PARKERSBURG – The life and times of Harriet Tubman came to life Sunday for around 100 people during the first presentation of the Winter Lecture Series held at the Blennerhassett Museum of Regional History.

The theme of the series is “A Journey Through Time” and features a mixture of living history re-enactors and speakers each Sunday at 2 p.m. through Feb. 24 at the museum at Second and Juliana streets in downtown Parkersburg.

Sunday’s program was “Harriet Tubman: Behind Enemy Lines – Civil War 1863” featuring Evans portraying Tubman.

Tubman (1820-1913) was known as one of the the most famous leaders of the Underground Railroad, helping slaves escape north to free states and Canada, said Ray Swick, park historian for Blennerhassett Island Historical State Park.

Nicknamed “the Moses of her people,” Tubman devoted her life to the liberation of slaves and the abolitionist movement in the U.S., he said.

“We are fortunate to have Harriett Tubman’s life acted out for us by one of the most accomplished actresses in Appalachia,” Swick said. “People who saw her last year were in awe.”

Evans’ portrait of Tubman during the Civil War showed how she used her experiences with the Underground Railroad to venture into the South on missions to gather intelligence on Confederate movements and positions to aid the Union soldiers. She also talked about the conditions as Tubman had worked as a nurse and the fact she kept doing her work, even though she never got the equal pay for equal work she did.

Evans as Tubman also talked about being present at the ill-fated Union assault of South Carolina’s Fort Wagner and the impact that had on many people.

Throughout her presentation Evans would break into song, singing parts of old spirituals to help illustrate a point or add emotion to a particular moment. She engaged the audience and got them singing at times and helping out in other ways.

Many of those in attendance had seen Evans during last year’s lecture series.

Jerry Anderson, member of the Blennerhassett Foundation Board, had seen Evans last year and was looking forward to hearing her again.

“I thought she was great,” he said. “She was very engaging.

“She brought song and everything else into it. She had a reflexive voice and a strong personality.”

Tubman herself did not know how to read or write, Evans said. She was never able to record her own memoirs. A lot of the information on Tubman came from two books written by Sarah Bradford, published in the late 1800s. Bradford, who supported abolitionist causes, might have been biased in her presentation.

“It is hard to tell what was Harriett’s voice and what wasn’t,” Evans said. “It is the closest thing we have to her own voice.”

Other accounts from old newspapers and other sources were also used by Evans in her presentation of Tubman.

Evans said a lot of things have become legend and myth. Tubman is known for helping over 300 slaves escape north during over 20 trips in the South. More scholarly works have tried to verify those numbers but have come up a little short. Recent accounts put that number around 70 to 100 people and it was more likely over 13 trips into the South.

“Many of those documents are now gone, burned or lost,” she said.

Evans points out what Tubman did is still quite an accomplishment for anyone.

“Even that is staggering,” she said. “Tubman was going back into enemy territory, without tools, without papers, without anything but her great spirit, her intuition and the faith in God which guided her that has stood the test of time.

“She still helped a lot of people. It is an astounding thing regardless.”

Evans points out that Tubman was on the edge of the changing roles of women in what she was able to do and she stood that line in doing what she did to help others.

“Harriett Tubman stood in that progressive line for what women who were ready and prepared need to do to follow the voice of God that is inside them,” she said.

The next program, at 2 p.m. Feb. 10, will be “Outacite Ostenaco: Cherokee Leader (ca. 1703-1780)” featuring re-enactor Doug Wood. Space is limited and reservations are required. For more information, call 304-420-4800 or online at www.blennerhassettislandstatepark.com.