Arts and Entertainment

Brown leads viewers on Underground tour

Karol Brown invites her audience to “get on board” the famed Underground Railroad Feb 9.

In a one-woman dramatization for the “Inquiring Minds” series, Brown portrays Harriet Tubman, who led hundreds of slaves to freedom.

“I’m not a professional actor, although I do like to give poetry readings.” Brown said, “but I was inspired by Tubman’s life.”

Brown, who holds a masters in public health with an emphasis in education, has given presentations on health issues statewide. As coordinator of Black History Month for the Veterans Administration hospital in Tacoma, Brown is always on the lookout for opportunities to address African American concerns.

“Being coordinator keeps me looking for things we can do on a low budget,” Brown said, “including things I can do myself.”

When Brown saw “The Moses of Her People,” a television special on Tubman with Cicely Tyson in the starring role, she began to research Tubman’s life.

She read that Harriet Tubman, of Ashanti heritage, was born a slave on the Maryland plantation of one Edward Brodas around 1821.

The Civil War would not be fought for a half century, but Tubman knew from an early age that slavery was wrong.

At 15, she tried to help an escaped slave and was struck in the head with a lead weight by Brodas, an injury from which she never fully recovered.

During the confusion on the plantation after Brodas’ demise, Tubman slipped away, and walked the 90 miles from Maryland to Pennsylvania – and freedom.

A year later, Tubman returned to Maryland and led family members north. She traveled south 19 times during the 13 years preceding Lincoln’s 1863 Emancipation proclamation, leading more than 300 slaves to safety.

Plantation owners offered a $40,000 reward, but she eluded capture.

After reading about Tubman, Brown was eager to recreate her life for contemporary audiences.

Brown contacted the Washington Commission for the Humanities, whose “Inquiring Minds” program underwrites re-creations of notable persons, and immersed herself in research about her subject.

The re-creations for “Inquiring Mind,” which Brown started in November 2001, are going well, Brown says,

“I’ve done them in Granite Falls, Battle Ground and Aberdeen,” Brown said. “People have been very, very receptive and we’ve had a great turnout. That’s making me much less nervous.”

Most dramatizations of Tubman’s life focus exclusively on her underground railroad years, Brown says. That’s one reason Brown has chosen to emphasize her later years.

When Tubman was an old woman in a convalescent home, she entertained many visitors with recountings of her rich, full life.

“She made her last trip on the underground at 40. She had a lot of life after that,” Brown said.

Tubman was a nurse and a spy for the north throughout the Civil War, and later worked for women’s suffrage.

If inhabiting another person’s psyche means assuming at least a tint of the invoked personality, Brown doesn’t mind.

“She was a very special person,” Brown said. “She was very social and loved company. I’m just doing what she did – entertaining people with stories about her life.”

* * * * *

Karol Brown portrays Harriet Tubman in “Harriet Tubman: Traveling on the Underground Railroad” for the award-winning “Inquiring Minds” program 2 p.m. Feb 9 at the Bainbridge library. Free to the public. For more information call 842-4162.

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