HARRIET TUBMAN, a former slave born in Dorchester County, led hundreds of slaves on 19 reported expeditions from the South to the North.
Her path to freedom was the Underground Railroad, a human chain of abolitionists who worked to safely transport runaways from the slave plantations of the South to the free communities of the North.
During the mid-1800s, thousands of slaves were smuggled to freedom through safe houses, which could have hidden compartments in cupboards, floors and closets.
Today, people across the nation, including some in Baltimore, are participating in walking tours, attending slavery re-enactments and taking bus tours to experience the hardships of the past along the Underground Railroad.
This month, Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Lancaster, Pa., will stage Living the Experience, a play that retells the stories of individuals who worked on the passageway to freedom.
The church, founded in 1817, was one of many destinations along the Underground Railroad.
But don't plan to watch the stage production; audience participation is a must.
Joyce Hitchcock of Baltimore, who has attended the play, says of the production, "You're so involved in it. It's like you've gone back those 300 years and you're right there."
Some audience members find themselves praying at an altar alongside the actors portraying slaves, while others end up on stage singing songs of encouragement.
"These were songs they sang just trying to get through each day," says Hitchcock.
In one scene, a slave serves her master while he boasts about how he tortured and murdered her brother. Immediately, she rushes out of the room to console herself in the kitchen. The slave's sister finds her and tells her to return to the dining area or the master may kill her.
"You feel everything that she's feeling," Hitchcock says. "This country needs to heal with truth, and this play is just the tip of the iceberg."
After the performance, the audience meets with the play's lead actress, Phoebe Bailey, to talk about the play.
That discussion's purpose is to "make sure you understood what you saw. She gave information and talked about the different songs," Hitchcock says.
Living the Experience runs each Saturday this month through December, beginning at 1 p.m. Matinee showings are at 10 a.m., 11 a.m., 1 p.m. and 2 p.m. Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays for groups of 35 or more only. Meals after matinee showings are available by arrangement.
Individual tickets are $23 and do not include the meal. A group rate of $30 per person is available for groups of 35 or more and includes the meal. Children's group rates are available.
The church is also hosting a conference on the underground railroad, "Revealing the Truth: We Wish to Plead our Own Cause," Feb. 9-11. It will include the exhibit Lest We Forget, a private collection of slavery artifacts and Jim Crow memorabilia. Joe and Gwen Ragsdale of Philadelphia are the curators.
For tickets or information about the play and the conference, call 800-510-5899, ext. 113 or 717-509-1177, ext. 102 or visit livingtheundergroundrailroad.com. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org for conference information.
Walk for health, history
No one knows the exact paths of the secret network of passageways slaves traveled, their way marked through cornfields and forests with piles of stones, hollow trees and safe houses identified by a glowing front porch lantern, but several routes that ran directly through Baltimore and surrounding counties have been traced and recorded.
In May, walkers participating in the fifth annual Health Freedom Walk in Baltimore will take a five-mile journey along the route symbolic of the interconnected paths legendary freedom fighters traveled.
"It was almost like I could feel their spirits there with me," says Jeanne Charleston, Freedom Walk founder and Community Health Awareness Program director. "I was walking across the very same ground my ancestors walked."
The walk begins at St. Mary's Park -- the heart of the historic downtown Seton Hill neighborhood -- where Baltimore-based Sankofa Dance Theater will help participants warm up in a 15-minute routine that involves tribal rhythms of pulsating drums.
The Johns Hopkins University Gospel Choir will lead the group out of the park singing inspirational spirituals.
On Orchard Street, walkers will pass by the infamous Orchard Street Church, noted as a key stop on the Underground Railroad. It is believed that former slave Truman Pratt founded the church in 1825. "There is a dirt tunnel beneath the church that slaves crawled through [that] we show them," says Charleston. No longer an active church, it is now the Baltimore Urban League's headquarters.
The walk, which will pass by other monuments including the Civil War Museum and Douglass Terrace, is peppered with heartfelt performances by actors portraying the struggles of abolitionists Harriet Tubman, Henry "Box" Brown, Frederick Douglass and Sojourner Truth.