Stamp sparked idea for play on Tubman's life

February 18, 1994|By Phil Green | Phil Green,Special to The Sun

The idea for a play about the life of Harriet Tubman, the great conductor of the Underground Railway, began with a stamp on display at the post office in St. Michaels.

Author Margaret Barton Driggs says the stamp commemorating the life of the woman who escaped after 25 years of bondage on an Eastern Shore plantation and returned 19 times to lead other slaves north piqued her interest.

After Ms. Driggs had written a pair of magazine articles about the woman they called "Moses," it hit her like a ton of bricks, she says.

"The more I knew about her, her voice started ringing in my ear, and I realized I just had to put her on the stage," the playwright recalls. "I became fascinated with her because she was just a phenomenal person. Like Joan of Arc -- legendary, but real."

And put her on the stage she did, as audiences will see this weekend when Ms. Driggs' one-woman play, "Sweet Chariot" is performed at 8 p.m. tonight and at 2:30 p.m. Sunday at Maryland Hall in Annapolis.

The play, which already has won awards from the Maryland State Arts Council and the Festival of Southern Theater, will star Vivian Gist, the dynamic Anne Arundel Community College professor and actress familiar to theatergoers for her work with Colonial Players and T. G. Cooper's Pamoja Ensemble.

Produced by Carol Youmans, the play is being presented by the Banneker-Douglass Museum and the Glen Burnie Chapter of the National Coalition of 100 Black Women.

Interest in "Sweet Chariot" is intense. Performances are tentatively scheduled in March at the University of Baltimore and at Anne Arundel Community College. In addition, the play is to be presented in April at several benefit performances for Baltimore's Enoch Pratt Library.

Tubman once again will venture to the South when "Sweet Chariot" is presented at the University of Mississippi in August.

For Vivian Gist, Harriet Tubman is not just the role of a lifetime, but a shining example of everything that's right about the human spirit. "She represents courage, generosity, perseverance and the drive to help others," Ms. Gist says. "These were constants in her life as she sought freedom and justice."

While the play dovetails beautifully with the themes of Black History Month, Ms. Gist emphasizes it has a larger significance. "It's sinful to think of Harriet as one month of a year," she says passionately. "She is a person for always, for every month and for every year."

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.