AGITPROP NEWS: Moses in Maryland

Les Schaffer schaffer at
Sun May 27 22:29:50 MDT 2001

[Non-member submission from
 ["Alewitz, Mike (Dept. of Art)" <ALEWITZM at>]]

Please Post and Distribute:


In this issue:

Moses in Maryland: The Murals
By Elizabeth Donovan

(First Published in Link: A Critical Journal on the Arts in Baltimore and
the World, Issue 6, 2001. Reprinted with permission.  Contact LINK at

There was a torrential summer downpour the day I met with New Jersey
muralist Mike Alewitz, who was in Maryland to work on The Dreams of Harriet
Tubman, a series of murals commissioned by Baltimore Clayworks. In the
sanctuary of the Sculpture Barn at the American Visionary Art Museum on July
5, Alewitz talked about the project, which started peacefully enough but had
developed into something of a sensation just the month before.

        Alewitz's goal was to create a body of work that would depict
Harriet Tubman's role in history as a freedom fighter and liberator,
educator, and advocate for civil rights. As a leader of the Underground
Railroad, Tubman's journey led her, in the service of others, on a path
fraught with great danger and personal risk. But like other great
humanitarians throughout history, Tubman worked for a larger cause and
succeeded in shaping the future in many ways. Alewitz, who has made a career
of creating public art that showcases the causes, defining moments, and
individuals involved in the pursuit of social justice, wanted to show this
remarkable womanóin Maryland where her story began.

        But public art is created in a public realm, where more than just an
artist's creative abilities are put to the test. In a community environment,
the artist must contend with many voices and many opinions.

The Project

The Dreams of Harriet Tubman originated last year as part of a program
organized by the Mid-Atlantic Arts Foundation under the rubric "Artists and
Communities: America Creates for the Millennium," one of twelve endeavors
funded by the National Endowment for the Arts in its nationwide millennium
arts plan. According to Matthew Brown, the foundation's marketing director,
the goal was to place one artist in a community residency program in every
state. The state art agencies decided which organizations would represent
their states, and the foundation developed a national roster of artists to
choose fromóan independent panel selected 250 artists from a pool of 1,500.
Once an artist was paired with a community organization, the two were then
free to develop their specific project. Brown stressed that the foundation's
goal was not "just to put art in communities, but to engender a public
dialogue about the arts."

        Baltimore Clayworks was chosen by the Maryland State Arts Council
because of its history of community involvement, and Alewitz, in turn, was
chosen by Clayworks for his "painting of extraordinary quality and themes of
social justice and equality"1óhis history of presenting public art with a

        The project that Clayworks and Alewitz devised called for the
creation of a series of murals commemorating the life of Tubman, who was
born into slavery in 1820 on a farm just outside of Cambridge, Maryland, on
the Eastern Shore. Tubman escaped to freedom in 1849, but then returned to
the area nineteen times to lead other slaves to freedom.

        Alewitz and a group of assistants painted the murals, while
Clayworks helped children in the communities receiving the murals make the
ceramic tiles that would line the murals. The selected communities were part
of the governor's HotSpot program, which provides after-school activities
for children growing up in crime-ridden neighborhoods.2 The locations chosen
were the Harriet Tubman memorial park in Cambridge (Dorchester County); the
Magnolia Middle School in Harford County; and the University of Maryland,
Eastern Shore. There were also plans for a mural in Baltimore City. All
these communities, whether rural or urban, had at least one thing in common:
the desire to foster community spirit around the arts by developing creative
projects for their kids.

The Tour: "This Road Dedicated to Harriet Tubman"

Traveling south from Baltimore, along I-97 to Maryland Route 50/301, you
cross the Chesapeake Bay Bridge and follow Route 50 after it splits south
and enters Talbot County. There you start to cross the small creeks and
rivers that Tubman and others crossed before these roads were constructed.
Shipton Creek, Hogneck Creek. You see a sign for the Easton Parkway to Saint
Michaels. You pass small houses, open fields, roadside businesses, car
dealerships, and antique shops. Crossing Peach Blossom Creek, twelve miles
from Cambridge, you spot the Talbot Evangelical Church and the Top of the
Bay Pet Lodge across the highway from each other. Almhouse Road. The Milford
Maple Landing Grainery with its tall silos of corn, and a Bush/Cheney sign
in someone's front yard. As you enter Dorchester County, crossing the
Choptank River, you see on the Dorchester side the sign: "This Road
Dedicated to Harriet Tubman."

        The first mural to be erected, the title piece, is actually a
monument; it occupies a small strip of roadside park that was dedicated to
Tubman in the summer of 2000. Standing on a winding footpath, sprinkled with
dedication plaques chronicling Tubman's travels, The Dreams of Harriet
Tubman shows the abolitionist beneath the Big Dipperóor the Drinking Gourd,
as the slaves called it. Tubman is depicted both as a guide for others and
as one guidedófollowing the North Star to the land of the free.

        As in all the murals, Tubman's skin here is purpleóa unifying shade
of royalty and right. She is chiseled and commanding, in a shower-storm of
twinkling stars, with the crests of the parted Red Sea to her left and
right. The Moses of her people. The reverse side of the mural, facing the
road and oblivious traffic, holds an image of two rifles, crossed along
their stocks. Above them glows a lantern, in the same position occupied by
the North Star on the obverse. Weary travelers can walk the crushed stone
footpath and read about another traveler who had only stars to guide her and
the fear of recapture for fuel. Tubman never lost one of the purported three
hundred slaves she led to freedom, either in New York or, further from
harm's way, in Canada.3 The stars in the murals seem to represent all those

"Glory to God and Jesus too,
        One more soul got safe;
Oh, go and carry the news,
        One more soul got safe."4

Harriet Tubman Birthplace: Bucktown Road, 8 Miles

Following a narrow country road lined with trailer parks, past the
Cambridge/Dorchester Airport with its long blue buildings housing small
Cesnas and crop-dusters; past a wooden sign for the Bucktown butcher shop;
past the Bucktown United Methodist Church nestled in a turn in the road,
with its small sign of mismatched plastic letters calling to its neighbors
(no one stops); past the harvested fields and small stands of straggly trees
that begin to give way to the high groundwater in swampy bogs and small
shimmering lakesóyou see a sign: harriet tubman birthplace next right.
Turning west on Greenbriar Road, after about a quarter-mile, there's a
small, two-story, white house on the left, standing back five hundred feet
off the road, alone in a field shadowed by a border of trees stretching off
uninterrupted in two directions. The scene is quiet. No cars pass. At the
beginning of the driveway is a large, silver-toned plaque:

Harriet Tubman 1820-1913
The Moses of her people, Harriet Tubman of the Bucktown district found
freedom for herself and some three hundred other slaves whom she led north.
In the Civil War she served the Union Army as a nurse, scout, and spy.
Maryland Civil War Centennial Commission.

Tubman was born on this farm, then owned by Edward Brodas. Just beyond the
sign there is a metal gate across the driveway, chained to two halved
telephone poles that serve as gateposts. The meaning is clear: Do not enter.

        So I felt a little apprehensive as I walked on the lane toward the
white house. Around the back of the house, I saw stacks of fresh-cut
firewood. Sun-bleached animal skulls and antlers hung in the bay window.
Inside, next to a large cast-iron wood-burning stove, stood an old cloth
couch and loveseat, and a coffee table strewn with papers.

        There was a slightly newer building directly behind the white house,
not visible from the road, a sad red-clapboard construction. It also had
fresh-cut firewood around back. A sign, hand-lettered on metal, announced:
"Harriet Tubman did not live here!!!" Beneath this was another message:
"Cripple Creek HuntingóPrivate Property." Walking back, I leaned over the
thick weeds around the back step of the white house, trying to read what was
written on a small plaque attached to the siding by the backdoor. I could
barely make out the hand-carved letters: "Riff Raff Lodge." That was enough.
The wind picked up under my collar, and it was time to go.

        I walked quickly down the rutted drive, glancing at the rotting
foundation of the white house, past the remodeled windows, metal edges
rusting and crumbling, past the front door without its steps, past the small
two-story house, which now seemed dwarfed by the open space around it, and
got back in my car.

The Creation of Wealth

Eight to ten HotSpot kids from the Woodrow Wilson Youth Center in Crisfield
helped make the 105 ceramic tiles that will flank the mural The Creation of
Wealth, which was painted in December 2000 on a wall in the special
collections department of the Frederick Douglass Library at the University
of Maryland Eastern Shore in Somerset County. Clayworks supplied the
patterns for the tiles, based on the directional quilts pictured in Hidden
in Plain View,5 and Alewitz and five assistants, two from the fine arts
department of UMES, finished the work in two days. The mural's dedication
plaque reads: "Dedicated to the struggle for just reparations from the
crimes of slavery."

        UMES, a land-grant institution founded in 1886 and a historically
black college, boasts a world-renowned experimental agricultural department
and a student population of 3,400. Ernest Satchell, chair of the Department
of Fine Arts, praised the mural for its simplicity and its "eye-catching,
moving" narrative.

        With lavender skies, a roiling red sea, and geometric shapes for
clouds and treetops, the mural shows Tubman on a rowboat with Frederick
Douglass, both figures facing us against a huge yellow moon. The small boat
is loaded with hewn logs and planks of plywood, and Tubman, on our left,
cradles an axe lightly in her right armóa symbol of the work she did with
her father on a slave lumberjack crew. Her hands, emerging from tattered
sleeves, gently grasp the handle. In contrast, Douglass, with a creamy brown
complexion and his signature wild gray hair, clenches a mallet waist-high in
one hand and with the other holds up a boat-caulking tool in a closed fist.

        A burning bush in the sea in front of the boat flickers toward
Tubman, and a black cat, on a boat rail near Douglass, arches its back and
bristles like a Halloween emblem. To the left and right of the boat part the
waves of the Red Sea. Behind the swell on the right we see a cityscape
filled with high-rise buildings full of lighted windowsóthe city of the
north. Above the buildings, a large black cloud echoes the shape of the
waves below and small red lightning bolts dart out through its lining. On
the left is a small stand of trees with crowns of swirling green, topped by
another large black cloud with lightningóthe country of the south. On clouds
of wispy violet, floating between the black clouds and the full moon, tiny
pink-winged rowboats carry the south's gold to heaven. Alewitz shows that
the Southóthe whole countryówas built by slave labor, and that the fruits of
that labor escaped the slaves, who had no more control over the wealth than
do Tubman and Douglass over the boat they float in here. They hewed the
lumber and built the boat, but the fortune went to the slave-owners.

Dark and thorny is the pathway
Where the pilgrim makes his ways;
But beyond this vale of sorrow
Lie the fields of endless days6

Parting the Waters

The water continued to rise outside the AVAM Sculpture Barn as Alewitz
worked on the traveling version of the mural that had been offered to the
Associated Black Charities earlier in the summer. The mural itself hasn't
yet been painted, and so doesn't have a formal name, but some people refer
to it as the "Moses" mural.

        At a meeting on June 5, at the McKim Center in East Baltimore, an
announcement was made, to the surprise of both the community and the artist,
that the Associated Black Charities would not accept the mural proposed by
Alewitz. The mural would show Tubman, the "Moses of her people," with her
arms spread wide, holding a rifle in one hand and a lighted lantern in the
other, as the Red Sea parted before her. Donna Jones Stanley, the Charities'
executive director, was later quoted as saying the organization wouldn't
accept the mural because it wasn't right for them. She noted that her group
"had no choice of who was depicted, what was depicted or how it was
depicted."7 As a charity that works closely with the African-American
community, Stanley wondered, if it didn't get to use its freedom of choice,
how could it empower others to use theirs?

        Alewitz was his usual optimistic self as he jumped down from his
ladder to help the workmen save the AVAM barn from the flood. Murals weren't
supposed to be beautiful per se, he told me, but to stand for something else
in the community. Perhaps, where the Associated Black Charities was
concerned, it was just a little too close to the issue. The image of a black
leader depicted with a large rifle might be viewed as support for armed
violence. This fear wasn't stated directly by the Charity, but it had been
suggested in the community discussions that followed the decision to refuse
the mural. But Alewitz stressed that the important discussion wasn't about
the art; it was about the way people assign meaning to public works of art.
People wanted to avoid talking about the issues his mural suggested.

        The large "Moses" piece (intended to be approximately 25 feet by 125
feet) was originally envisioned to incorporate images of people standing on
the lower rungs of the mural scaffolding and sketched into the fabric of
Tubman's skirt, in order to create an active sense of history-making.
Alewitz says he depicted Tubman with a rifle in her hand, not as a literal
historical representation but as a symbol for people today. The problem is
that what people today seeóif they view this image as a call to actionóis
that things aren't as good as they may have hoped they would be or were told
they would be. The image of the past doesn't reveal the past so much as
spotlight the present.

        According to Alewitz, the workeróthe working classóis discouraged by
the corporation owners, the powers that be, from speaking out. Alewitz knows
from experience that when you show a weapon in the hands of someone
oppressed, a lot of people start to get nervous. His mural shows power in
the hands of the underdog, and this frightens those who want to keep
control. "Murals don't cause violence," he's been quoted as saying.8 But
then, what does? And is this a question that the Baltimore community wants
to take on? In this case, an artist created an image of a historical figure
using a good deal of artistic license. He may not be advocating the use of
violence, today or in the past; he may only want to draw attention to the
fact that civil rights violations still occur. But is this an image that
Baltimoreówith a murder rate of three hundred a year over the past
decadeówants to embraceóthe image of a rifle-wielding freedom fighter, as
Alewitz describes Tubman?

        What do people see when they look at Tubman with a rifle in her
outstretched hands, as she parts the Red Seaóa sea awash with drowned white
bodies and black slaves rising to heaven? Some community leaders are
concerned that the historical Tubmanócourageous, God-fearing, and
compassionateóis obscured in Alewitz's freedom fighter.

        Leslie King-Hammond, dean of graduate studies at the Maryland
Institute, College of art, finds two problems with the mural. The first is
that Baltimore community representatives were not consulted about what they
would like to see depicted; the second is that Alewitz's depiction of Tubman
is not historically accurate. "Alewitz had no idea of the concerns of the
community and the desire to uplift and support African-Americans, women, and
children," King-Hammond said. Moreover, in her view, Alewitz's image works
by using subliminal messages referring to Malcolm X, who has himself often
been co-opted "with his 'by any means necessary' quote." Hammond stressed
that this "is not the message Baltimore should be giving to its children."9

        When an artist paints a historical figure in an ahistorical
situationóHarriet Tubman with a large rifleósomething very fresh can occur.
The juxtaposition of past and present compels the viewer to look again. Is
this a slave woman in a kerchief and full antebellum skirts? Or is there a
Rambo quality in the image, something more Che Guevara than Aunt Jemima? Or
is this a case of a historical figure being pressed into championing a cause
not her own?

        Alewitz intended the image of Tubman with the rifle to provoke and
even shock, in order to draw attention to her heroic deeds. But while the
symbolism may have been true to her cause (though some dispute that), it is
not historically accurate. Tubman did carry a gun on her trips to free
slaves, but it was a pistol, not a rifle, and she never killed anyone with
it. Only once was it reported that she threatened someone with her
pistolóone of the runaway slaves she was leading, a man who was scared and
wanted to turn back. Tubman would probably have used the pistol if she had
to rather than put the whole group in danger of recapture, but the man drew
up some courage and they went on.10

        At the McKim Center meeting, Alewitz spoke about his goal to
represent Tubman as an advocate for social justice aligned with other
revolutionary leaders, civil rights activists, and disenfranchised workers.
It was an effective presentation.11 Later reports, however, mentioned racial
tensions at the meeting, noting that the board member from the Associated
Black Charities who voiced his opposition to the mural was a white man. But
the debate, though heated, was not divided along racial lines.

        There had been discussions between Alewitz and the Charities about
trading the rifle for a staff. Stanley said the organization would prefer
Alewitz to focus on Tubman's "strength and her greatness," rather than
create an inaccurate representation of her.12 But Alewitz would not "disarm

        What people saw in the proposed mural was neither a depiction of the
past nor a symbolism linking Tubman to the ongoing struggle against
oppression. What they saw was the present, the gun violence that is
destroying Baltimore's African-American community. The people who would be
living with the mural deal with the problem of violence everydayóin the here
and now, not on an abstract ideological battleground.

Slavery hasn't been abolished, just polished.14

Education for All

The mural on the exterior gymnasium wall at the Magnolia Middle School shows
a tight view of Tubman on a computer monitor, her outstretched hands
extending beyond the screen, into rolling waves that border the undefined
outlines of striking workers who, in turn, border the screen. The whole of
the image lies on the pages of an open book suspended in a star-filled night
sky. The Drinking Gourd is on the aqua-green screen with Tubman; on the
computer keyboard, individual keys spell out "The Dreams of Harriet Tubman
Education for All © Alewitz 2000." Education for All is the mural's title
and a mantra for those who wish to make improvements in education.

        Magnolia Middle School, which proclaims itself as "The school where
everybody is somebody," is what is known in the area as a "Route 40 school,"
which simply means it's known to have some problems with crime and drugs.
Magnolia was designated a HotSpot school in 1997, and now three times a week
thirty at-risk kids join in after-school homework sessions, crafts and games
activities, or field trips, all designed to keep them off the streets. The
school is located in a rural section of Harford County, though local
residents actually call it the "downtown" of the region. The expanse of a
farmer's field bordering the school grounds, complete with rolled bales of
hay and holding towers, is not enough to keep "city problems" from creeping
in. The image of Tubman, arms spread wide, welcoming all into education,
does not fit some people's ideal of wholesome rural life, either. Last
summer there were complaints that the mural was going to "urbanize" the
area. According to Magnolia Principal Joe Mascari, there are no racial
problems in his school, where thirty-one percent of the student body is
African-American and five percent come from other minorities.

        Indeed, no problems were visible as school kids, ages eleven to
thirteen, waited to get on the buses on a cold January day. There was
good-natured pushing and shoving, bookbag-laden shoulders scraped rudely
against one another, and mischievous boys played in the small patch of snow
in front of the mural, which no one seemed to pay any attention to. This was
just one big, happy mix of kidsókids who, on returning to school in the
fall, had wondered when their tiles would be added to the mural and when the
ceremony honoring their contribution would take place.15 But the novelty has
since worn off; a child's fascination with the abstract is short-lived.

        Word on the street is that teenagers were responsible for defacing
the mural in July, when it was about halfway finished. Swastikas and
misspelled graffiti were spray-painted over Tubman's face and the keyboard's
message. Alewitz repaired the damage right away.

        Randy Gyer, a special education teacher who serves as HotSpot
coordinator for Magnolia, said he was surprised when people in the community
started complaining about the mural. "Maybe it wasn't wise," he said, "but
we didn't foresee ... anyone having any problems." No one from the community
had shown up at the school board meeting where he, Mascari, and Baltimore
Clayworks' Blaise DePaulo initially presented the idea of a mural for the
school. Gyer said he thought the mural would be a "wonderful way to display
what our communities and nation as a whole have gone through to get to
today." Gyer added that, although the kids enjoyed being part of the
project, when they painted the quilt patterns on the tiles there wasn't any
talk about where the patterns came from and what they would mean in the
finished piece.

        One of the complaints Mascari received came from a woman from
Dundalk, some fifty miles away, who wanted to know if "her tax dollars where
being used to put this mural up." And a school board member wished that
Alewitz had made the image a little more "American." But whose "America" is
it that gets to be represented? Maybe the kids at Magnolia will begin a
conversation on the topic when the dedication and tile application take
place in the spring.

The Long Road

Donna Stanley said in January that Associated Black Charities still "wants
to have a mural." But she stressed that they "want to make sure that things
go smoothly, and that the community embraces whatever it is." She said they
were moving slowly, but she added, "we will have a mural."16

        The Mid-Atlantic Arts Foundation's Matthew Brown says he considers
Baltimore Clayworks' project to have been very successful in light of the
dialogue it created about "what art can do for the community." He says his
foundation will do a short-term evaluation of the entire project and will be
raising funds for a long-term evaluation to gauge its effect over time.
Brown says the problems with the "Moses" mural were "centered around
historical accuracy and the expectations of [the Associated Black
Charities]. The media tried to blow it up into something bigger, ... but
basically the artist had a vision, and the Associated Black Charities
decided that it was not what they wanted." For its part, Mid-Atlantic Arts
Foundation stands behind its artists, "If Mike had wanted to change the
mural that would have been his decision."

        But Deborah Bedwell, executive director for Baltimore Clayworks,
said she was not hopeful that a suitable Baltimore wall would be found for
the controversial "Moses" mural. She said several walls had been offered but
none had met Alewitz's criteria for visibility, institutional connection,
community involvement, size, shape, and condition. But Bedwell added that
the imageónow in the form of a banner titled Move or Dieó"is getting a lot
of publicity and will probably travel for the next decade. ... It's just a
shame that the actual mural is not getting a permanent position in the
city."17 The tiles that were made for the Baltimore mural will eventually be
mounted somewhere, if not on the mural, then at another site of community
involvement, Bedwell said. In the end, she stressed that the funders, large
and small, felt the project as a whole, which involved about six hundred
kids, was a success in that it "sparked a lot of community debate about art,
Harriet Tubman, and the Underground Railroad."

The Artist's Last Stand

In a phone conversation on January 28, Alewitz said he wanted to go on the
record with the following statement:

 "The recent election [of President George W. Bush] and disenfranchisement
of African-American voters shows once again the racist nature of American
society as promoted by the two major political parties. It's not surprising
that the wealthy classes will not allow the image of an armed
African-American freedom fighter to grace their walls. After all, it appears
that African-Americans in America are still three-fifths of a human being.
However, whether Harriet's image goes up on a wall in Baltimore or not, the
same spirit that animated her life will animate the freedom-fighter of today
- and her image will be painted."

        "Art in the public arena requires constant mediation." That's the
message King-Hammond says she always tells her students at MICA. "There is a
real responsibility to the community that the image will serve or undermine,
and there needs to be an open dialogue." This dialogue did not happen with
the "Moses" mural, King-Hammond says: "Here is a white male artist without
full participation with the community, without the necessary 'history.'" She
questions where "he got his facts from" to begin with, and said she feels it
is really a question of "who should be allowed to tell this history?" She
says she doesn't want to censor anyone, but she wants to make sure that the
correct information gets out and that the message to the community is a
positive one that they can take forward, not one that will slow them down.18

        Alewitz said he's not "actively looking" for another location to
paint the "Moses" mural, but since he's not here in Baltimore and "not able
to wage an aggressive push to find a wall," his hopes are dwindling. He has
had meetings with the deputy mayor and hopes to speak with Mayor Martin
O'Malley very soon. He still wants to find a wall here, but maybe Baltimore
is not the place.

"Joe! You've shock de lion's paw!"19


Harriet's Journey

Harriet Tubman left her husband and her family under the cover of night in
1849 for fear of being sold "down river"óinto the Deep Southóto toil on
cotton fields until her death. She had never been the ideal slave. Hard to
train and headstrong, she had been hired out to other families when her
owner, Edward Brodas, couldn't think what to do with her. Eventually, she
was allowed to marry John Tubman, a free black, because Brodas had no hopes
of marrying her within his fold to raise her children as slaves. When she
told her husband that she was planning to run away, he threatened to tell
her master, but she went anyway.

Through the woods and streams and in the darkness of night, she made her way
to her first stops on the road to freedom, one of the homes of Underground
Railroad "conductors" in Camden, Delaware. Two of the most famous of these
safe houses, Wild Cat Manor and Great Geneva, are still standing, but they
are privately owned and their owners don't allow visitors. From there,
Tubman would make her way to the Appoquinimink Friends Meeting House in
Odessa, Delaware (which is still operating; it's known as the smallest house
of worship in the United States). The Quakers would hide fleeing slaves in
the eaves of their one-room meetinghouse. Still accessible through a heavy
oak trapdoor reached by deep freestanding stairs, the room is no more than
ten feet by twelve feet and now holds tiny chairs and a small table for
Friends to use at meeting. From Odessa, Tubman ventured on to Wilmington and
then Pennsylvania, and from there to New York and freedom. Along the way she
met people who gave her shelter, money and food; her foes never touched her.

There are few available accounts of Tubman's travels, just a handful of
stories.1 One tells of the time when, while still a slave herself, Tubman
protected a disobedient slave from their master and took a blow to the head.
This supposedly precipitated "the dreams" (some suspect a form of epilepsy)
that allowed Tubman to speak directly with God, to find her way on her
travels and reassurance that she was doing the right thing on the trips she
made to free others. Another story relates that, on her way north with a
group of runaway slaves, she knocked on the door where a friend had lived
but was confronted instead by a man who refused to help her. She left
quickly and took her charges into a nearby swamp to hide from the inevitable
vigilantes this man would rouse. There in the marsh, with no idea what to do
but trusting in God's will, she heard a voice saying as it passed by that
there was a wagon with provisions in a barn not far away.

On three occasions, short on funds and needing to go back to Maryland for
more slaves, Tubman stopped at the houses of men who had helped her in the
past and every time she left with the needed funds. The first time, after
sitting for a long while in the drawing room of a business man in New York,
she awoke to find that she had three times the money she had asked forógiven
by visiting men out of respect for her bravery. On the second occasion, she
went to her friend, Thomas Garrett in Wilmington, a brave man in his own
right and a great humanitarian who helped thousands of escaping slaves. She
said she needed a certain amount of money, and that God had told her to ask
him for it. As it happened, with no previous knowledge of Tubman's need,
Garrett had indeed received money in her name just a few days before in a
sum very near what God had told her to ask for. The same thing happened yet
another time.

Another story tells how once a slave got scared while they were escaping and
didn't want to continue. Tubman, fearing for the rest of her party, took out
her pistol and told the man that theirs wasn't a round trip. He pulled up
some courage, and they went on. She never lost a soul.

She was also a friend of the abolitionist John Brown, who called her
"General Tubman." She supported him but was unable to go with him on his
raid. She knew by intuition that he had died in that fateful siege at
Harpers Ferry and mourned for him. She also remembered a dream she had years
before of a snake rising in a wilderness that then became the head of a man
with a long white beard. Two other, younger men, were beside him, and then a
rush of men came and "struck down" the younger two. When she first met
Brown, she knew he was the older man in her dream. It wasn't until after
Brown's death that she realized the younger men had represented his two

In 1850, when Congress added monetary incentives for federal officers to
capture runaway slaves, Tubman realized she would need to take the runaways
further than New York.3 She chose Saint Catherines, Ontario as her
destination, 650 miles from Dorchester County, Maryland. It was there,
directly over the Niagara Falls Bridge, and safe on Queen Victoria's
Canadian soil, that Tubman would make a home for herself and others for a
number of years. She made her last journey south to free slaves in 1860, and
during the Civil War served the Union Army as a spy, a nurse, and a
guideóall without pay.

On all her trips, Tubman followed the Drinking Gourd and the North Star to
safety. She followed her dreams and her faith in the Lord, and she was


Notes Story 1

1. This quote taken from a Baltimore Clayworks press release on the project.

2. HotSpot is an initiative of the Governor's Office of Crime Control and
Prevention to give kids in crime-ridden communities a safe haven through
public programming and after-school activities. The goal is to keep them off
the streets after school, when most of the young teen violence and drug
abuse takes place.

3. Sarah Bradford, Harriet Tubman: The Moses of her People (1886; reprint,
Secaucus, N.J.: The Citadel Press, 1980), 88. Originally published in 1869
under the title Scenes in the Life of Harriet Tubman, this book based on
Tubman's own stories, as well as accounts related by people who knew Tubman.
Bradford published her book as a fund-raising effort for the abolitionist.

4. Ibid., 51. In one group of slaves that Tubman took to the North, there
was a man known only as Joe, who had a high price on his head and had been
nervous and afraid of recapture the entire trip. As their train crossed the
bridge at Niagara Falls into Canada, this was the song Joe sang.

5. Jacqueline L. Tobin and Raymond G. Dobard, Hidden in Plain View : The
Secret Story of Quilts and the Underground Railroad (New York: Doubleday,

6. Bennett Wayne, ed., Black Crusader for Freedom (Champaign, Ill.: Garrard
Publishing Co., 1974), 95. Tubman would sing this hymn twice as a signal to
mean it was safe for the runaway slaves to come out of hiding.

7. Gregory Kane, "Charity stuck to its guns during the Harriet Tubman mural
flap," The Sun (June 25, 2000).

8. Jamie Stiehm, "Mural of armed Tubman stirs protest," The Sun (June 6,

9. Leslie King-Hammond, telephone conversation with the author, February 5,

10. Wayne, Black Crusader for Freedom, 116.

11. See The Sun archives for stories circulating around the date of the
McKim meeting (

12. Kane, "Charity stuck to its guns."

13. Mike Alewitz, "Statement by the Artist," June 14, 2000. For a full list
of articles and releases on the project visit Baltimore Clayworks' Web site

14. Conversation with the author, July 5, 2000.

15. According to Deborah Bedwell, executive director of Baltimore Clayworks,
the tiles will be applied in the spring, with the dedication ceremony
following shortly thereafter (telephone conversation with the author,
January 29, 2001).

16. Donna Stanley, telephone conversation with the author, January 29, 2001.

17. Bedwell, telephone conversation, January 29, 2001. The Move or Die
banner was recently displayed in the exhibition, Freedom in the Air: Indiana
County's Underground Railroad In Black and White, at Indiana University of
Pennsylvania in Indiana, Pennsylvania (February 1ñ26). For more information
about the Indiana County Underground Railroad Project, visit and

18. King-Hammond, telephone conversation, February 5, 2001.

19. Bradford, 51. This is reportedly what Tubman said to the runaway slave
Joe as they crossed into Canada and freedom (see n. 4).

Notes Story 2

1. For more information on Harriet Tubman and the Underground Railroad, see
Earl Conrad, Harriet Tubman, (Washington, D.C.: Associated Publishers,
1942); William Still, Underground Railroad Records (Philadelphia: W. Still,
1872); and Priscilla Thompson, "Harriet Tubman, Thomas Garrett, and the
Underground Railroad," Delaware History, vol. 22 (Wilmington, Del.: The
Historical Society of Delaware, 1980), 1-21.

2. These stories are taken from Sarah Bradford, Harriet Tubman: The Moses of
her People (1886; reprint, Secaucus, N.J.: The Citadel Press, 1980).

3. The Fugitive Slave Law was enacted in 1850, strengthening the 1793
Fugitive Slave Act. Federal officers could now receive a fee for the slaves
they apprehended. See Charles L. Blockson, Hippocrene Guide to the
Underground Railroad. (New York, NY: Hippocrene Books, 1994), 18.

Mike Alewitz, Dreams of Harriet Tubman (front view of monument), 2000. Photo
courtesy of Baltimore Clayworks.>

Mike Alewitz, Dreams of Harriet Tubman (back view of monument), 2000. Photo
courtesy of Baltimore Clayworks.>

Mike Alewitz, Creation of Wealth, 2000, approx. 8'x16'. Photo by Ernest

<FIGURE 4> <Donovan - 4 - CAPTION -
Mike Alewitz, Move or Die, traveling banner, 2000, approx. 7'x20'. Photo
courtesy of Baltimore Clayworks.

Mike Alewitz with the unfinished mural Education for All, 2000, approx.
20'x100'. Photo by Alisia Chapman, staff photographer for the Aegis
Newspaper, Harford Co., Maryland.

<Fanky if you use 5.1 use this caption:
Mike Alewitz working on the mural Education for All, 2000, approx. 20'x100'.
Photo by Alisia Chapman, staff photographer for the Aegis Newspaper, Harford
Co., Maryland

Department of Art
Central Connecticut State University
1615 Stanley Street
New Britain, CT  06050

Phone: 860.832.2359

Subscribe to AgitProp News, the twice-monthly digest of art, politics and
humor for artists and activists.

Send to: listserv at
Message: subscribe agitprop_news Your Name

More information about the Marxism mailing list