History brought to life: Local woman portrays African-American abolitionist Harriet Tubman

Published 1:31 am Sunday, February 5, 2012

Gwen Williams, a.k.a Miss Chocolate, is portraying famous ‘conductor’ for the Underground Railroad, Harriet Tubman, for local children in recognition of Black History Month.

She says, “In high school we always did Negro Spirituals, but never really appreciated what they were about or how significant they were in the Underground Railroad.

“A slave could not voice their opinion but they could sing. It kept the masters entertained and they had no idea that the song was communicating right under their noses.

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“Harriet Tubman and the slaves used these spirituals to communicate and plan escapes to the north for freedom. She brought many slaves safely through the south so they could be free. This tiny, little woman with nothing but her faith and conviction in her own sense of what was just.”

Miss Chocolate says there were code songs to signify different events in the slave community.

“The slaves used to sing ‘Swing Low Sweet Chariot’ when she was coming though. They would sing ‘Down by the Riverside’ to gather for meeting and make plans.

“They would sing ‘Wade in the Water’ when they were heading out to escape. They would use the water to throw off the dogs that would be sent out for them to make them lose their scent.”

An old spiritual, “Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child,” was a way to express their feelings on how they had no identity of their own, no roots to look back on or ancestral tree to find a sense of heritage.” 

Miss Chocolate identifies with Tubman.

“I identify with her in the way that she fought to bring people out of slavery and I fight to bring people out of a mentality of defeat and poverty.

“They used to refer to Tubman as  ‘little Moses’ and she was like him in leading people somewhere better when they were not always appreciative. Sometimes when I try to lead someone out of poverty I will tell them, ‘You will do this; you can and you will.’ Harriet would carry a gun and tell the ones that wanted to turn around, ‘You can run or you can die but I am not letting you die a slave.’

“Can you imagine one woman doing this? She organized the underground with the Quakers. She made it happen. I can tell you that a Harriet Tubman attitude is sorely needed today. People are enslaved and they don’t even know it. Where are they? Where are the Harriet Tubmans?

“I believe there are some out there. I have some of them in my Sunday school class. They will go on to make a difference.”

Miss Chocolate will also be appearing as Harriet Tubman on KALB-TV in Alexandria, La. and at Our Lady of Lourdes Elementary School in Slidell, La.

“I encourage people to look up Harriet Tubman on Google or get a book at the library. The children need to check her out and send me the answers of the following questions to my email; chocolatelavern@aol.com. I will draw a name from the correctly answered questions and the winner will get some chocolate from Miss Chocolate awarded to them at the Picayune Item and get a picture taken.”

The following are the questions to email Miss Chocolate the answers to by February 29.

1.Where was Harriet Tubman born?

2.What was the name of the plantation where she grew up?

3. How many slaves did she free?

4.What was her nickname?