Tuesday, July 18, 2000

Tribute to a woman called 'Moses'

Harriet Tubman portrayed by Covington woman

By Cindy Schroeder
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        COVINGTON — During the Civil War she served as a cook, a nurse, a spy and a scout.

        Before the war, the woman born into slavery on a Maryland plantation led more than 300 slaves to freedom along the clandestine route known as the Underground Railroad, earning her the nickname, “Moses.”

        While it has been nearly a century since the death of abolitionist Harriet Tubman (1820-1913) her spirit lives on in a Covington woman. For 13 years, Patricia Humphries-Fann has portrayed “The Ghost of Harriet Tubman” at churches, schools and libraries from California to Pennsylvania.

        This week, Ms. Fann will add London to her resume. The 52-year-old Covington journalist takes her one-woman show to an international conference marking 100 years of Pan Africanism, a global movement to unify people of African descent.

        Organizers say Ms. Fann can help educate blacks outside of the United States about African-Americans' heritage.

        “Black Britons are not aware of the prominent role that women of color have played in the liberation, not only of black women, but of all women,” said Edwin Wilson, the Nathalie, Va., man who put Ms. Fann in touch with organizers of the international conference.

        “(Ms. Fann) also can shed some light on the struggles that black Americans have faced through the years — everything from lynching to segregation to Jim Crow-ism,” he said.

        Ms. Fann said her one-woman show evolved from a realization that she knew little about her racial heritage, despite having attended the old Lincoln-Grant School in Covington for 11 years. The school, set up when public schools were segregated, is now the Northern Kentucky Community Center.

        “Even though we had black teachers, they did not teach us black history,” Ms. Fann said.

        During Covington Schools' celebration of Black History Month in 1985, Ms. Fann called the school system, and offered to portray a house slave, so that younger generations would better understand the history that she had missed out on.

        Her performances were so successful that Ms. Fann soon was fielding requests to perform before other Tristate school systems, churches of various denominations, and community groups.

        Two years later, Ms. Fann changed her characterization, after a Cincinnati United Way employee asked her to read a prepared script on the life of Harriet Tubman as part of National Volunteer Week.

        From then on, the founder of The Suspension Press, a now-defunct, biweeklynewspaper that covered Greater Cincinnati's black community, made it her part-time avocation to portray Harriet Tubman and learn all she could about the escaped slave who returned 19 times to the dangerous South, despite a $40,000 bounty on her head.


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