My husband and I followed part of the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad tour in Maryland. We have done this twice before after the completion of a conference he attends every other year at the U.S. Naval Academy.
We left Annapolis for the new state park center constructed five years ago as a tribute to Tubman, a Dorchester County, Maryland, freedom fighter.
I was most inspired after stopping to see the general store where she was reportedly hit in the head while trying to aid an enslaved man’s escape.
The head injury resulted in periodic deep sleeps that affected her for the rest of her life.
While visiting the area and stopping at other sites including a one-room log cabin constructed by James Webb, a freeman in Preston, Maryland, I thought about the way in which she and other historical actors who lived during her time moved through space.
I did so because my husband and I were quite tense while using a map, the brown historical markers and a GPS to find the various public history sites on the Underground Railroad tour.
We were far calmer when we were using the map and driving to see where we ended up. Proceeding in this way was a privilege. Tubman could not just go with the flow. She was deliberate in her movements and attempts to free slave territory and help others do the same during her several trips to Maryland.
But in letting go of technology, it was as if Tubman was there, saying follow your intuition. Even the brown historical markers were not especially helpful. We seemed to end up again and again exactly where we needed to be.
It was also surreal visiting several historic sites and then suddenly deciding to listen to the Alabama-Southern Mississippi game. Here was another moment filled with privilege.
We could press pause on our empathy for those who suffered great injustices to hear the latest score via Eli Gold and his sportscasting comrades via a Decatur, Alabama, live stream on my smartphone. We heard Michael Jackson’s “Don’t Stop (Till You Get Enough) in Bryant-Denny Stadium. The disconnect between the sounds heard and this sacred tour were made evident.
Periodically, the stream was disrupted by the GPS guide directing us toward BWI Airport.
I left the tour feeling fierce though. Remembering Tubman’s courage does this to me.
I began to think a lot about the fierce ways of the women from whom I descend including my great grandmother. She never learned how to drive. She caught the bus everywhere after leaving Mississippi for Miami in the mid-1950s. While living in Miami’s Coconut Grove, she walked daily, going as far as an Episcopalian church on the “white side” of the Grove, closer to the bay. There, she patronized a thrift store. Louella Halbert – we called her Lou – came up in a day when folk walked long distances.
We easily traveled sixty miles today. I wondered what that sort of distance might have been like for Tubman. I wondered two about the short distances – maybe three or four miles – my great grandma regularly walked in her Mississippi Delta town.
As I have said elsewhere, on the shoulders of these two women – one was born in the year the other died – I and so many others stand.