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Freedom: In The Blink Of An Eye
2/4/2015 4:38:10 PM

By Beverly Gadson-Birch

This month has been set aside to observe Black History Month. The fact is every month is Black History Month. While Black history is a time to reflect on the many accomplishments of African Americans, it also dredges up painful memories of a time in history of white inhumanity.

According to Wikipedia, “The precursor to Black History Month was Negro History Week started in 1926 by Carter G. Woodson and the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History. The week was chosen because it coincided with the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln, February 12, and Fredrick Douglass, February 14.” According to Woodson, "If a race has no history, it has no worthwhile tradition, it becomes a negligible factor in the thought of the world, and it stands in danger of being exterminated.

Selma, one of the most significant documentaries of our time, is playing in theatres across the country. The timing couldn’t be better. Selma should be made available to every school age child from middle to high school followed by a discussion. The tumultuous events surrounding the passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act should stir the consciousness of children who have not had a hand in shaping history understand the importance of voting.

From time to time, I run across ads that appeared during slavery announcing the sale of slaves. This one appeared in 1800. “To be sold, a black woman named Peggy, age 40, and her son, Jupiter, age 15. Both of them the property of the subscriber Russell. The woman is a tolerable cook and washerwoman and perfectly understands making soap and candles .. price $150 and for the boy $200 payable in three years with interest from the day of sale and to be secured by bond, etc. But one-fourth less will be taken for ready money.”

And my home state of South Carolina …"To be sold on board the ship Bance-Island . . . a choice cargo of about 250 fine healthy Negroes". Advertisement in the South Carolina Gazette by a prominent merchant firm and a leading importer of slaves in Charleston. The advertisement announces the forthcoming sale of Africans from the “Windward and Rice Coast,” and stresses their freedom from smallpox. The Library of Congress assigns a possible date "from the 1780s (?)", but the advertisement was, in fact, published on April 26, 1760. See Philip Hamer, ed., The Papers of Henry Laurens (Univ. of South Carolina Press, 1972), vol. 3, pp. 35-36.

Although Harriett Tubman is known for the underground railroad, Tice Davids inspired the term “underground road” for his bold escape to freedom. Tice Davids was born a slave. One day, he awoke to the realization that he had to do something about his plight unless he would die a slave. Tice could no longer stand being in bondage so he devised an escape plan.

The terminology “underground railroad or road” is no more than escape from slavery to freedom often assisted by abolitionists from the north. Some friends of Tice sent him word that they would be awaiting him in Ohio. He was told to “look for the lantern” and “listen for the bell”. Tice thought about the journey before him and what it would mean to him to be free. Tice had earned the status of being a trusted and a good servant. So Master did not expect that he would run but run he did.

As the story goes, when Tice got to the Ohio River with his slave master and slave master’s men in tow, there was no boat or nothing for him to ride across the river. He knew he had to get to the other side if he wanted to be a free man. He knew there would be friends waiting to help him on the other side. He thought if only he could get to the other side and with that thought in mind he waded through the water. The water was cold and it sort of revived him after his long run but it tired him out. He realized that he had to stay calm and kept his eyes on the prize while swimming across the Ohio River.

Halfway across, Tice thought he heard the bell and he summoned enough strength to swim on across. Meantime, midstream, the slave master and his men had found a small boat and they gave chase across the river. The slave master kept Tice in sight. Even after Tice got to shore, wet and tired, his slave master kept his eyes on him. He was so sure he had Tice until he blinked to get the water out of his eyes. That’s where he made his mistake. That’s all it took, one blink and Tice disappeared into the fog never to surface again. The slave master was flabbergasted. He could not believe he had lost sight of Tice. After a thorough search of the area, checking ditches, poking haystacks and questioning people in town, he gave up and returned to Kentucky. The slave master told his story when he returned home that Tice must have traveled the “underground road”.

Tice made his way all the way through Ohio finally settling in Sandusky, on Lake Erie. What is so remarkable about Tice’s story is all it took was a blink and he took the opportunity to freedom. What are you waiting for? Do not miss your blink?

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