We’d just started doing the storytelling–in fact, the storytelling musical on the life of Mother Harriet Ross Tubman. And then for the first time I heard there was going to be a trip up to her home place in Auburn.
It was being sponsored by Michael Hooper, the brother from Roots Revisited, who’d taken children to different parts of the world to explore their cultures–and to actually talk firsthand with those who were keeping the traditions going–like Colonel C. L. G. Harris, the former leader of the Asante/Maroon people up in the Blue Mountains of Jamaica.
Back in the 80’s, Mike was good enough to give me the tape of Colonel Harris lecture on the Maroons and that great love warrior-priestess, Grandy Nana, one of their most powerful 17th century Maroon leaders and like Mama Moses, one of the most powerful women to have walked the planet. When I went to Jamaica for the Honorable Marcus Garvey’s 100th birthday celebration, I went up to Grandy Nana’s home place, met and talked with Col. Harris and the Maroon people, and afterward one of Grandy Nana’s descendants, Kwaku Asante (who lives right up in the Bronx), became one of my dearest male friends. But I’ll tell you about that in another ancestral travel story, let me get back to the Mama Moses’ trip. I’m only in contact with Mike once in a blue moon, but it’s always a powerful ancestral resource communication. Now I knew I just had to make this visit to Mama Moses’ place, even though the bus would be leaving at midnight. Since I’m usually up by five-ish in the a.m. to take care of a few literary must-do’s, midnight is usually my dreamland time, but I’d just have to come home from work, take a short nap, and be ready for this short dream journey –actually walk on the grounds and in the home formerly inhabited by my spiritual mentor, the great Underground Railroad conductor and powerful mystic whom I’d been calling Mama Moses since the day the Spirit started urging me to organize this storytelling musical on her life. Told my Rich Bartee, my poetic buddy of mega-years about the journey, and he would be going along for the trip to honor Mother Tubman. Took a cab to Boys & Girls High School where the bus would be picking us up. A bus was already there and was loaded with quite a number of excitedly chattering children. Some adults were standing by the wall of the school conversing as they waited for the other buses which were due to arrive at any moment. The vibes were real pleasant and peaceful. I could tell that these were a group of beauty spirits with whom it would be a pleasure to share such a journey. They smile and greet me warmly although they don’t know me from Alice’s housecat. I’m usually a trifle shy still among a group of folks I’ve never met but I zero in on a particularly friendly looking face or two and flow into a casual conversation. Gloria Lowery Tyrell, the magnanimously talented sister of Dramatic Interpretations, who portrays a wide range of Black historical figures including Mama Moses. Gloria and I had met and become friends back in the 80’s right after I’d written my book, The Mystical Experiences of Harriet Tubman. We’d been mutually supportive and encouraging since that time, sharing beaucoup resources and contacts as we pushed forward in our similar spiritual work of celebrating the power queens (and some kings) of our ancestry. This is Gloria’s birthday weekend and she and her son and favorite sidekick, Kwame Marcus, have brought a little of everything to take along on the trip–food, books, even a birthday cake. I’ll bet she’s even got that Civil War rifle packed in all of that stuff–the one she uses when she portrays Mama Moses. Maybe even those slave shackles she carries when she’s doing her memorabilia exhibits. I grin ear to ear when I see Glo’ and Bartee. The group with whom I’d been conversing had just been chuckling about the arrival of the bus with the big John Henry sign painted on the side. Now isn’t that just the perfect fit for an ancestral journey like this–a bus company named John Henry of all things–and just like ole John Henry of steel-drivin’ fame, this John Henry is reliable and right on time, even though the other bus to take us on the Tubman journey is nowhere to be seen–and we’ve been waiting here a good long while. Mike looks kind of worried and I see him constantly making phone calls. I feel badly for him cause I know he’s such an efficient, hard-working brethren. This shakiness going on is some invisible body’s doing–it’s definitely not a Mike Hooper thing. The vibes I picked up about the folks here were right on the money because everyone is as cheerful and good-natured as when we first arrived. There’s no complaining, rolling of eyes to the sky, or sucking of teeth–just patient, pleasant it’s okay’s to Mike. Can’t help saying to myself that if these were folks headed for the casinos or a disco trip, I doubt if the letdown would’ve been taken so good-naturedly. Oh well, maybe I should even be thinking that way–maybe that’s touching on traveler stereotyping. At any rate, we learn that the company he’d hired has failed to send the buses and are failing to pick up the telephone. Finally, it’s decided that ole John Henry should go on to Auburn with its load of children and their chaperones, as it’s most important for them to experience this part of her history, especially since most of them will be performing for the program up at Mama Moses’ place. I make a mental note that if I ever plan a bus trip, that John Henry bus company might be well worth checking out. After no amount of calls have reached the non-show bus company, Mike apologizes again profusely. Folks just do their that’s okay, brother thing again–and after farewellin’ to new friends and old, start to drift off a few at a time. After hours, Gloria reluctantly packs up–birthday cake and all, and heads back to Queens. Oh well, she’s been to Mama Moses’ place beaucoup times, so it’s not a tremendous loss on her part, but I’d be lying if I didn’t tell you I was tres disappointed because I was all set to take off my shoes and sink my toes into the soil that great soul had walked upon. Some of us Mama Moses stalwarts, including Bartee and the storyteller Dr. Joyce Duncan, hang on to a thread of hope, envisioning something occurring that we can make it on up to Mama Moses’ place. Bartee suggests that we go to the bus station in Manhattan and take a public bus up there. It’s three a.m.’ish or so and some of us are kind of tired from the hours of standing around, so nobody’s too hot on that idea. Then the idea occurs to somebody that we rent a car and drive up. Everybody’s eyes light up on that one, and calls are placed until a reasonable deal is found over at Newark Airport. We pile into Mike’s car and head for Jersey where monies are put together and arrangements made to rent the vehicle. Mama Moses, blessed Spirit, we’re on our way! I’m going to miss the drum celebration at your gravesite since the drummers were among those who finally had to give up and head back home, but it’ll be wonderful to just walk the grounds you once trod during your last years of love and service to our people. When we arrive in Auburn, the program is well under way. There are Underground Railroad historians from all over the region where Mama Moses and the former slaves lived and worked. The New York children, borne here by good ole John Henry, thrill them, heart and soul, with their deep-spirited singing. It’s a beauty-full day and we sit outside on Mama Moses’ land eating our lunches. I exchange business cards with some interesting folks involved in Underground Railroad history, and Joyce and I promise to keep in contact and to possibly share some storytelling engagements in the future. As soon as I get the chance, I go into Mama Moses’ house and observe it in awe, touching the places that she had once touched, just immersing myself in the spiritual vibe. Most people are still at the lecture; they’ll take the formal tour later, but I see a young lady who’s a volunteer at the estate, and she is gracious enough to give me a private tour. I’m able to stand quietly and just feel the Spirit of the place. Look at that bed–such an antique. And that huge Bible on the nightstand that people used to read to her. Most of the items here are period pieces, not her actual furnishings, but that Bible was hers–perhaps her most precious possessions, even though she couldn’t personally read it. She didn’t have to–the Spirit was a natural absorption of her being. I keep looking at the bed in the small room where she’d rested her weary bones at night and where grateful adorers gathered on March 10, l913, to say goodbye as her Spirit made her last freedom journey. Hmmm, thanks for this time alone here, God. I remember Imani, my sistuhbuddy storyteller, relating to me that when she and her sister actor Carol had visited the home place before that Carol, (who like Gloria had also portrayed Mama Moses) had actually lain in Mama Moses’ bed! Carole, they must’ve said, No more, dear lady, cause they’ve got Mama Moses’ bedroom all roped off now. It’s hard to even lean over and touch the bed. That’s all right, though. It’s good for my feet to just touch the grounds where she walked. Right across the way–that brick house over yonder, as my grandmama Anna Pearl would’ve said, is the one that Mother Tubman’s second husband, Nelson Davis, built for her. Some people are renting that now, so we can’t go inside, but in the Tubman museum there are all types of clippings and memorabilia of her life. I’m truly thanking God for this ancestral journey, and I’ve taken plenty of photos to mount on my Mama Moses’ website for those to see who might never get to make the journey. Hopefully, they’ll inspire as many as possible to make this supremely worthwhile ancestral journey. The Carter family and dedicated colleagues are doing a good job in keeping Mama Moses’ work flowing. The house has become a historical landmark now. Hilary Clinton has even come up and paid respect to this ex-slave saint’s work and memory. And just at the end of the program, her great grand-niece, Ms. Pauline Copes Johnson, was introduced to the audience. Imagine, one of Mama Moses’ kinfolks. She looks like such a warm, down-to-earth spirit, just like her Aunt Harriet, as she calls her. I’d like to say a word to her, but folks are crowded all around her quite thickly. I hope it’s not my ole procrastination habit rearin’ up its I’ll do it later head cause I’m thinking, Well, I’ve got her phone number which Gloria shared with me. I’ll give her a call pretty soon. (Okay yes that was the appearance of ole Miz Procrastination, but I did call her later and we became dear friends. She and her family even came down a year later when my company had Mama Moses’ enstooled as a Queen Mother of Ghana. More on that story later. In fact, she even sat in for the Spirit of Mama Moses during the ceremony. This trip has been fabulous, but like Mama Moses’ treks on the Underground Railroad, it certainly has had its share of challenges. It looked like we almost weren’t going to make it for awhile and many good-hearted ones turned back, but even though we had to pay a higher price in time, money, and energy, we got here. And now of all things, something has thrown my stomach a’kilter and I’m turning that bathroom doorknob every few minutes. And not even a hotel room to sleep in tonight. We’ll be Brooklyn bound again in a few minutes. Oh well, think of the times Mama Moses and the slave ancestors must’ve come down ill and yet couldn’t stop to rest. They had to push on forward. These conditions are much more comfortable. I certainly wouldn’t dream of complaining, not even to myself. God will help me to make it home okay–just like S(H)e helped them. In fact, despite the queasy stomach, I feel exhilarated. The company has been nice, the information has flowed bountifully, and the Spirit within has been ever so gently touched and moved. Thank you, God, and a bouquet of thanks, Mama Moses. I’ll be back again to your home place one day. In the meantime, love warrior, you’re ever in my heart. And in my stories. For the graphics to this travel journey and more information on the Mama Moses work, visit: href=http://members.tripod.com/~Amasewa/HarrietTubman.html
Linda Cousins/Amasewa Okomfo copyright (c) L. Cousins 2001