LAUREL – The life and legacy of Harriet Tubman was celebrated by professional actress Gwendolyn Briley-Strand, along with other visitors, at the Montpelier Mansion in Laurel on Feb. 28. Briley-Strand, a scholar and portrayer of Harriet Tubman, presented a section of her film, “Harriet Tubman, The Chosen One” and displayed photos of Tubman’s life for […]
LAUREL – The life and legacy of Harriet Tubman was celebrated by professional actress Gwendolyn Briley-Strand, along with other visitors, at the Montpelier Mansion in Laurel on Feb. 28.
Briley-Strand, a scholar and portrayer of Harriet Tubman, presented a section of her film, “Harriet Tubman, The Chosen One” and displayed photos of Tubman’s life for her audience.
The actress informed visitors about the events and details of Tubman’s life that many people don’t know. She also gave them insight about how important Tubman’s role was in ending slavery.
“I think it is important for everyone to know her because she shows what one person can do, way back when it wasn’t fashionable to be African-American and all of that,” Briley-Strand said. “She was illiterate, she was enslaved, and she was a woman. She was black. She was handicapped. Even with all of these things going against her, it didn’t stop her from knowing what she had to do.
“It’s like when Rosa Parks said, ‘when one’s mind is made up, this diminishes fear.’ Fear, when you know what must be done, is replaced with faith. So she knew what she knew and she knew God would help take her through wherever this journey was going to take her.”
Briley-Strand has performed her dynamic one-woman show celebrating the life of Tubman since 1993 and has traveled to hundreds of schools, universities, churches and conventions in 31 states.
She shared why she became so interested in portraying the African-American abolitionist.
“I don’t know whether she chose me or I chose her,” Briley-Strand said. “As an actor I was hired and I auditioned to a company in Pennsylvania. I got the role and then I started playing her. I started reading and studying more and found so much about her that I didn’t know.
“I said, you know, I have to write my own piece about it. This is a story I want to tell. It sort of took over my life and I just did more and more performances and writing the play.”
Briley-Strand answered questions from the audience about Tubman’s marriage, children and death. They also talked about her journey of finding slaves in different states who wanted to run away.
“I think it’s the love that she had,” Briley-Strand said. “The fact that she hated slavery, but didn’t hate the people that enslaved her. Her love and her bravery. She was ready to do what she had to do to accomplish what she was purposed to do.”
Visitors said they learned a lot about Tubman, including Gertrude E. Thomas-Suah from Laurel.
“I learned a lot more about Harriet Tubman and the Underground Railroad,” Thomas-Suah said. “I learned about her spiritual life and her courage to rescue her people.”
Fellow resident Renee Waters also mentioned what she had learned.
“I knew Tubman helped slaves move from one location to another, but I didn’t know she traveled mostly by foot,” Waters said. “I thought maybe she was traveling through the railroad at some point. Maybe got on some of the trains and things like that and knew different passageways through the country through train travel. But, I was surprised that most of her travels were on foot.”
Briley-Strand wants young people who attend her shows to know that people, including Tubman, have paved a way for them to be where they are now.
“I think young people under the age of 30 have to realize people paid a price for what you are enjoying now.” Briley-Strand said. “You all haven’t been in the war and hadn’t been in the battle, and those of us that have been in the battle – my mother, my grandmother, all of the suffragettes from back then – have taught you even though you are a woman you can do anything. Remember that someone paid a price.”