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Performer brings abolitionist to life

March 17, 2005|by DAVE McMILLION

charlestown@herald-mail.com

SHEPHERDSTOWN, W.Va. - With a fire crackling behind her and candles flickering, Ilene Evans brought abolitionist Harriet Tubman to life Wednesday night at O'Hurley's General Store in Shepherdstown.

Tubman was a slave who helped hundreds of others like her obtain freedom in the mid-1800s. Evans used song and dramatic storytelling to recount harsh events in Tubman's life and how she went on to free herself and others from slavery.

Evans is an actress, singer and poet who specializes in portrayals of historical figures.

Tubman was born into slavery in 1819 or 1820, in Dorchester County, Md., and was raised under tough conditions.

Tubman was subjected to whippings and, at the age of 12, she was seriously injured by a blow to the head by a white overseer for refusing to help tie up a man who tried to escape, according to a New York History Net Web site.

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"They were sure I was going to die," said Evans as she took on the role of Tubman.

But she told the crowd of a little more than 50 people at O'Hurley's that her mother always had hope.

Tubman survived and Evans said she often had dreams, including one about floating over a field.

Ladies dressed in white would approach her and pull her in close.

"I held onto those dreams," said Evans, continuing in her character as Tubman.

She got the crowd involved in her performance at times, asking them to stand with her to sing songs.

In one of the songs, the crowd sang "All day, all night, angels watching over me, my Lord."

Evans, continuing in her role as Tubman, recalled her nerve-wracking attempt to escape to freedom in the North.

As Tubman, she recalled traversing the countryside, running across situations such as groups of slave catchers who would roam areas looking for slaves on the run.

She recalled one night how a group of slave catchers was huddled around a fire, and how she could see them handling their pistols in the light of the fire.

"Freedom is a fragile thing," she told the crowd.

At one point in her escape to freedom in the North, Tubman was put into a wagon and covered with a sack, according to the New York History Net Web site.

Tubman eventually made it to Philadelphia, where she met William Still, the Philadelphia stationmaster on the Underground Railroad, according to the Web site.

With assistance of Still and other members of the Philadelphia Anti-Slavery Society, Tubman learned about the operations of the Underground Railroad, the Web site said.

Evans said after her performance that she became interested in portraying Tubman because she wanted to make sure her story endured. It was not until last year that the first fully researched biographies of Tubman were published, said Evans, who lives in Thomas, W.Va.

"I though she was terrific," said Bonnie Brannon of Inwood, W.Va. Brannon said she came to the performance because she enjoys portrayals of historical figures.

Evans said she will perform several times in the area today, including one at Musselman High School at 9:30 a.m. and another at the Martinsburg-Berkeley County Public Library in Martinsburg, W.Va., at 7 p.m.

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