Harris brings abolitionist Harriet Tubman to life at Lincoln
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[March 14, 2017]
- The latest exhibit at the Lincoln Heritage Museum on the campus of
Lincoln College is entitled “Lovers of Liberty, Take Courage,” words
spoken by President Lincoln during the darkest days of the Civil
In order to highlight the theme of the exhibit, the museum is
hosting a series of lectures by first person historical
interpreters. The interpreters selected 19th century people who
displayed extraordinary courage in this turbulent era of American
Friday evening Kathryn Harris of Springfield brought her portrayal
of Harriet Tubman to the museum.
Harris is well-known in the local historical community for her
service at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum. She
recently retired as the director of the library at the museum. She
is a member of the Abraham Lincoln Association and the African
American Museum in Springfield.
Harris also was instrumental in crafting the Lincoln Heritage
Museum’s latest exhibit by providing access to the ALPLM artifacts
that were loaned to the LHM.
Why portray Harriet Tubman? A cursory look at Tubman’s
accomplishments shows extraordinary courage in gaining her own
freedom from slavery and rescuing many other slaves from involuntary
servitude. Tubman was born into slavery in Maryland, but determined
early on that her liberty was a vital part of her life. She escaped
to the north and freedom as a young woman.
While in Philadelphia, Tubman joined with local Quakers to become a
part of the Underground Railroad, a group determined to bring as
many slaves out of the south and to freedom as possible. Tubman
became a conductor on the Underground Railroad, a person who
actually made the dangerous trip into slave holding states and
brought slaves north through a series of safe houses that were set
Tubman made thirteen trips to Maryland to rescue her siblings and on
her final trip rescued her parents and brought them north to Canada
where they would be safe from the reach of the Fugitive Slave Act.
Known as Moses to her many grateful passengers on the Underground
Railroad, she never lost a person on the perilous trip north to
freedom. She was so notorious among slave holders that they put a
$40,000 bounty for her capture.
During the Civil War, Harriet Tubman served as a nurse, scout and
spy for the Union, continuing her life of extraordinary courage and
service to the cause of freedom for slaves. After the war, she
worked for the Freed Man Bureau teaching freed slaves how to be
free, to read and write and actually be paid for their work. Harriet
Tubman never learned to read and write, but was a force of nature
even without these skills.
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Kathryn Harris began immersion into her role as an historic interpreter of
Harriet Tubman by reading everything she could locate on this icon of the
abolitionist movement. She was a regular visitor to the State Historic Library
when it was located under the Old State Capital Building in Springfield.
Once she was conversant with the historical facts of Harriet Tubman’s life,
Harris created a script to follow for her first person presentation. As a first
person historical interpreter, Kathryn remains in character throughout her
“I practiced one-on-one with Phil Funkenbush at the Presidential Museum to
immerse myself in the Harriet Tubman persona. Phil is an actor, director and
head of the Presidential Museum’s performances. He was a stern task master, but
when I could answer any question he put to me about Harriet’s life, I knew I was
ready for my first performance,” she said. Kathryn Harris is proud of the fact
that she has never been stumped by a question about Harriet Tubman’s life.
Kathryn Harris becomes Harriet Tubman during her performance. Her acting skills
are tremendous, and she is able to draw her audience into the performance.
Standing before the audience at the Lincoln Heritage Museum in nineteenth
century attire and large walking stick which she thumps on the floor when making
a defining point, it was easy to be drawn into a moment in history by a person
who helped eliminate the scourge of slavery. “I’m a natural ham and love to act
before an audience,” said Harris with a laugh.
The Lincoln Heritage Museum will host a continuing series of presentations by
historic interpreters during 2017. Check the Museum’s website for dates. Mr.
Lincoln’s words “Lovers of Liberty, Take Courage” resonate through the ages and
have powerful meaning for the present world.