BUCKHANNON – Students in fourth and fifth grades at Buckhannon Academy Elementary School on Monday learned about Harriet Tubman, who escaped from slavery before the American Civil War – and how she helped to lead hundreds of enslaved to freedom along the Underground Railroad.
The program was part of History Alive! program by Voices from the Earth and the West Virginia Humanities Council. Tubman was portrayed by Thomas resident Ilene Evans.
Evans said she has been portraying Harriet Tubman, an abolitionist and political activist, since 1991.
“Our work started in 1989,” Evans said. “Our mission is to keep the stories of historical figures alive, so they are not lost. When Voices from the Earth moved to West Virginia we continued that work with stories of courage, strength and inspiration that we thought might not be as common.”
The mission of VFTE is to keep alive “those stories in danger of being lost, especially African American tales of courage, freedom and valor through storytelling, theater, and historical portrayal and to promote listening, learning, respect and thoughtfulness,” according to its website. After escaping slavery, herself, Tubman led a multitude of former slaves to freedom through an intricate network of antislavery activists known as the Underground Railroad.
Evans said when the program was originally developed, it was even more interactive for the viewers.
“You can’t understand what you don’t have an experience of,” Evans said. “Children don’t have experience of an auction block or a chain gang. Most people interpret the grapevine as being gossip, which is unfortunate. The grapevine was, and still is, an important way of passing on information that helps people survive.”
Evans said the portrayal helps students better understand the historical events they might already know about.
Beth Post, from the Alpha Beta chapter of Delta Kappa Gamma International Society of Key Women Educators, said they chose to sponsor Monday’s event because of the timing.
“One of our members who teaches at Buckhannon Academy Elementary requested the sponsorship of this program,” Post said. “History Alive! has great choices of people to speak. In coordination with both Black History Month and Women’s History Month, we thought that Harriet Tubman would be a great speaker for the students, especially with the movie ‘Harriet’ that just came out. Students are talking about that, and we thought they should be aware of her as a historical figure.”
Buckhannon Academy Elementary School Assistant Principal Eric Brand said the event helped students better learn about the life of Tubman.
“It is interactive, and she starts with portraying Harriet Tubman,” Brand said. “She will allow students to ask ‘Harriet Tubman’ questions and then will allow students to ask her about how she goes about portraying Tubman.”
Brand said the approach used helps students be more part of the learning process.
“At this age, students are used to non-interactive learning such as learning in small groups and paper-and-pencil learning,” he said. “This will allow them to see the events and interact. It allows them to have a better experience in their learning.”
Brand said the students at BAES just finished up learning for Black History Month and are currently learning information about Women’s History Month, adding that the Tubman portrayal fits in nicely with both.
“Our fourth and fifth grades had learning with an emphasis on those months,” Brand said. “When we put an emphasis on reading and math, we kind of neglect history a little bit. This makes it nice to share that experience in the visual aspect.”
Additional information about Voices From the Earth is available online at https://voicesfromtheearth.org and History Alive! at www.wvhumanities.org.