By Elaine Magliaro
Here is a poem that I wrote in the voice of Harriet Tubman for Black History Month back in 2008. In my poem, I used only the titles of children’s books written by African-American authors or books about the African-American experience…with one exception—Come with Me, a book of poems that was written by Naomi Shihab Nye. (NOTE: I’ve printed the book titles in italics in my poem.)
Harriet Tubman Speaks
by Elaine Magliaro
My Brown Angels,
Listen to The Distant Talking Drum.
Hear it Spin a Soft Black Song
Under the Quilt of Night.
I’m Only Passing Through,
Goin’ Someplace Special…
To The Other Side
Where there’s A Sweet Smell of Roses
And Freedom Like Sunlight.
I’ve Seen the Promised Land—
A place for All the Colors of the Race.
Now Is Your Time
To be Freedom Walkers.
Follow me on The Road North
To Liberty Street.
Come with Me
To The Other Side
Where we will Make a Joyful Sound.
We will Lift Every Voice and Sing…
Sing to the Sun.
Sing Free at Last!
Hush by Jacqueline Woodson
Brown Angels by Walter Dean Myers
The Distant Talking Drum by Isaac Olaleye
Spin a Soft Black Song by Nikki Giovanni
Under the Quilt of Night by Deborah Hopkinson
Only Passing Through by Anne Rockwell
Goin’ Someplace Special by Patricia C. Mckissack
The Other Side by Angela Johnson
A Sweet Smell of Roses by Angela Johnson
Freedom Like Sunlight by J. Patrick Lewis
I’ve Seen the Promised Land by Walter Dean Myers
All the Colors of the Race by Arnold Adolf
Now Is Your Time! by Walter Dean Myers
Freedom Walkers by Russell Freedman
The Road North by Bettye Stroud
Liberty Street by Candice F. Ransom
Come with Me by Naomi Shihab Nye
The Other Side by Jacqueline Woodson
Make a Joyful Sound: Poems for Children by African-American Poets edited by Deborah Slier
Lift Every Voice and Sing by James Weldon Johnson
Sing to the Sun by Ashley Bryan
Free at Last! By Doreen Rappaport
About Harriet Tubman (The Daily Plant, NYC Parks)
Born into slavery in Maryland around 1822, Tubman escaped in 1849 via the Underground Railroad, the network of places and people dedicated to helping slaves find their way to freedom in non-slaveholding communities. Settling first in Philadelphia, then Canada, Tubman spent ten years returning to Maryland at great personal risk, to guide scores of friends and family members to freedom. Determined to end slavery, she later served the Union Army as a scout, spy and nurse in the Civil War. Settling in Auburn, New York after the war, she continued campaigning for equal rights for women and African-Americans. Her humanitarian work, including caring for the sick, homeless and disabled of all races, resulted in the establishment of the Harriet Tubman Home for the Aged in that community. She died in 1913 and was buried in Fort Hill Cemetery in Auburn with semi-military honors. Frederick Douglass once said of Tubman that except for John Brown, he knew of “no one who has willingly encountered more perils and hardships to serve our enslaved people.”
NOTE: After writing my Harriet Tubman poem, I posted it on my children’s literature blog Wild Rose Reader. Imagine my surprise when I read that a group of fifth-grade students from the Harriet Tubman Learning Center in New York recited it at a celebration marking the anniversary of Tubman’s death last year.
The sounds of the city’s underground railroad–the subway–may be heard emanating from the ventilation grating along the adjacent walkway, adding an auditory layer to the visitor experience. The screech of the rumbling trains beneath did nothing to diminish the buoyant Tubman Day proceedings which commenced with a percussion performance on the djembe by Ellore Grossett, and an invocation and libation delivered by Rev. Imani Carol Parker. This was followed by a group recitation of Elaine Magliaro’s poem, “Harriet,” by fifth-grade students from the Harriet Tubman Learning Center, led by teacher Roslyn Grossett. Soprano Marsha Thompson sang excerpts from “Harriet Tubman: When I Crossed That Line to Freedom”, and the event concluded with a ceremonial wreath laying in front of the monument.