Trailblazing Women: In the Spirit of Harriet Tubman

Hester Moore as Harriet Tubman, with walking stick

“Get low! Get low!” The booming direction from the mouth of Harriet Tubman commanded a room full of people on a trip through a dark period of U.S. history. Those words — at one point in time — might have saved the lives of the people in Tubman’s care. This night, those words served as a call to action — to share in that history and its lessons.

Nationally recognized performance artist Hester Moore this week visited the stage at 900 Hennepin in Trailblazing Women: In the Spirit of Harriet Tubman. Moore transformed into Tubman and told the story of how Tubman was born into slavery, risked her life to escape and then became an abolitionist and political activist who freed countless slaves.

Moore broke into occasional song, with the familiar “Let My People Go” and “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot.” She explained in a compelling first-person narrative how those coded songs gave clues to escaping slaves on how to navigate the dangerous path to the Mississippi River and to the free north.

Presented by Hennepin Theatre Trust to benefit the Minnesota African American Heritage Museum, the event raised more than $1,500.

Moore calls Dallas home and tours the country to share her story and Tubman’s. Her Minneapolis stop included two additional performances tailored for students and educators. And, while it’s no easy feat to keep a room of high schoolers away from their phones for an hour, Moore commanded attention. She entered singing, and her powerful voice cut across the room. The students chuckled and shifted uncomfortably in their seats as Moore paused and whispered instructions on escaping slavery in a young girl’s ear.

Hester Moore as Harriet Tubman leading students in an exerciseMoore’s Tubman recalled how, even as a child, she knew her place was to be free. When asked to help tie up a runaway slave, she risked her life and hid with pigs instead. Tubman recounted a memory of her father’s voice coming to her to remind her that he had taught her to navigate by the stars. And Tubman talked directly to the students, describing a vivid and grotesque reality for slaves who dared to seek out an education.

“If they were caught reading, their eyes were gouged out,” she said. “I’ll say this to all you young people who want to give up, who want to go back, who want to do what your friends do. Free yourself. Educate yourself. Free yourself from ignorance.”

Moore, who once marched with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., says it’s important to her to share her performance and experiences with younger generations, and to engage with them not as children, but as people with powerful stories of their own.

“What’s in you, no one can take it away from you,” she tells them. “Own it.”