Harriet Tubman’s Story Told; Part of County Library’s Civil War Series

The Local Commotion Walking History company tells stories from Harriet Tubman’s life at Monmouth County Library’s Eastern Branch.

By Lisa Smoltino, Holmdel Patch, Monmouth County, N.J.

The soulful sounds of a freedom song rang through the air when Harriet Tubman made a dramatic entrance and began to tell her story. The audience sat with rapt attention.

“Conversations with Moses: Harriet Tubman,” was presented Saturday at the Monmouth County Library Eastern Branch in Shrewsbury. Tubman was interpreted by actor  Tracy Grace. She appeared with Tubman’s biographer, Sarah Bradford, played by Kati Beddow Brower.

Kati Beddow Brower as Sarah Bradford and Tracy Grace as Harriet Tubman. Credit Lisa Smoltino

Both women are actors with Local Commotion, started by Kati Beddow Brower in 1993, to “integrate performance with education, going beyond the scope of historical text.” Brower does this by taking excerpts from history, usually with a focus on women’s history, and bringing them to life complete with characters and historical dress.

For “Conversations with Moses,” Brower played Sarah Bradford, a friend of Harriet Tubman who eventually went on to write her biography. The performance had Bradford and Tubman reuniting after the Civil War, discussing Tubman’s life as a slave and conductor of the Underground Railroad.

Harriet Tubman was born a slave in Maryland, and never learned to read or write, as it was prohibited for slaves to receive any type of education. She was born into a large family, but sadly, was disconnected from her sisters when they were sold to master in the Deep South.

As Grace recounted this tale, she embodied the raw emotion of someone who didn’t know childhood and witnessed their family torn apart. The emotion was poured out in the spiritual song “Motherless Child.” The deep soul in both Grace’s and Brower’s voice took the audience back to a time of where suffering blended with hope.

At the age of 24, Tubman, having experienced backbreaking work in the fields since she was a young child, finally managed to escape from the grips of slavery. She made her way north through the Underground Railroad, and was so moved by it, she felt it was her mission in life to return and help others find their way to freedom.

Over the course of her life, Tubman returned nineteen times to help those still in bondage. Throughout her trips, she helped free over 300 oppressed people from slavery. Her work was so notorious that slave owners put a $40,000 bounty on her head.

Tubman got her nickname “Moses,” because of the code song she used when returning to plantations to help free slaves. The song was “Let My People Go,” performed in a moving rendition by Brower and Grace.

During the Civil War, Harriet Tubman worked as a nurse and a spy for the Union Army. It was during this time that Tubman was involved in a mission with the Army to disrupt supply lines and free hundreds of slaves. The mission was a success, thanks to Tubman’s shrewd skills, and 800 slaves found their way to freedom.

After the discussion of important moments in Harriet Tubman’s life, Brower and Grace shared a few more songs with the audience. They sang what were called “learning songs,” which were used by slaves who were banned from traditional learning. They also took time for a question-and-answer period from the audience.

Local Commotion Walking History performs many historical events to help share history in unconventional methods. For more information on their mission and a list of events, stop by to see them at http://localcommotionwalkinghistory.com

About civilwarweek

Member - Minnesota Civil War Commemoration Task Force, Civil War reenactor and historian since 1993, holds Bachelor's Degree in History from Concordia University-St. Paul, currently pursuing Master's Degree in History at St. Cloud State University and is author of the forthcoming book, "Muskets and Memories: A Modern Man's Journey through the Civil War."
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