Stories of Freedom
Eleutherian College to present series
of storytelling programs
‘The Escape of Caroline’
to be told during May event
MADISON, Ind. (April 2013) – For many former slaves, the story of their escape has been lost to history. Workers and travelers on the Underground Railroad knew that secrecy was the only thing that could protect their freedom and often their lives.
A successful escape depended on speed and invisibility, allowing escaped slaves to anonymously begin a new life in the north. While silence was essential in achieving freedom for many, it also means that there is a danger that their courage and determination may be forgotten, since little was recorded of those who risked so much for a new beginning.
Eleutherian College played a
role in the area’s Underground Railroad prior to the Civil War years.
However, the harrowing story of one woman’s escape during fall 1847 is being brought to life by two master storytellers. Drawing on research compiled Under-ground Railroad research-ers from court documents and personal letters, Deborah Asante and Robert Sander have developed a powerful storytelling event titled, “The Escape of Caroline.” Their narrative follows a slave who fled with her four children from a plantation in Trimble County, Ky., crossing the Ohio River near Madison, Ind. At one point during the journey through Indiana, the family was betrayed and briefly recaptured before escaping again and making their way to Canada.
Sander reflects on the need to share this tale saying, “The reason it’s important for people to tell Caroline’s story is the same reason it’s important to learn about history in general – identity, context, an expanded sense of one’s place in the world. How can you steer a path forward without some grounding in where you have come from? Stories of the slavery era and escape narratives are also poignant reminders of how far we as a nation fell short of stated ideals. And how indomitable is the human spirit and the thirst to be free?”
Upcoming Events at Eleutherian College
• Location: 6927 W. St. Rd. 250, Lancaster, Ind.
• Saturday, May 4, at 3 pm: “The Escape of Caroline,” as told by Robert Sanders and Debbie Asante. This is the true story of the escape of a slave woman and her eventual confrontation with slave catchers in Rush County, Ind. Admission to the performance is free, with a donation at the door. Guided tours of Eleutherian College will be available from 1-2:30 p.m.
• Saturday, June 8, at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday, June 9, at 2 p.m.: “Nothing Stops this Train,” a play about the Underground Railroad and Eleutherian College by Terence Boyle. The play tells the fascinating story of John and Sarah Tibbets and a slave named Georgina who helps other slaves escape. Sarah Tibbets journeys into her own memories and recounts tales of slaves fleeing their masters across the Ohio River with the help of Georgina. Cost is $5 for adults; $3 for children; Friends of Historic Eleutherian College free. Guided tours of Eleutherian College will be available from 1-2:30 p.m.
• Saturday, July 20, at 3 p.m.: Free presentation titled, “The Underground Railroad and African American Activism” by Deanda Johnson, Midwest Regional Coordinator of the National Park Service Underground Railroad Network to Freedom. Guided tours of Eleutherian College will be available from 1-2:30 p.m.
• Saturday, Aug. 10, at 3 p.m.: Free presentation titled, “The Northern Church and the Moral Dimension of the Slavery Dispute’ by Dr. Jack Kaufman-McKivigan, Department of History, Indiana University-Purdue University. Guided tours of Eleutherian College will be available from 1-2:30 p.m.
• Saturday, Sept. 21, from 10 a.m. - 5 p.m.: Eleutherian College 2013 Fall Celebration of the history of Eleutherian College with music, speakers, food and fun.
• Information: (812) 866-7291 or visit: www.EleutherianCollege.
Historic Eleutherian College in Lancaster, Ind., just north of Madison, makes the perfect backdrop for this tale of courage. Founded in 1848, the college was dedicated to the idea that education should not be limited to a certain sex or race.
Today, Historic Eleutherian Inc. works to preserve the physical buildings of the former school and educate the public about the work of anti-slavery activists. Following a reorganization of the board in 2012, the past year has been one of great activity for the friends of this historic site. Now Eleutherian College kicks off its 2013 series of Public Programs on Saturday, May 4, with an afternoon of tours and storytelling. Guided tours of the college will be available from 1 p.m. to 2:30 p.m. Then at 3 p.m., Sander and Asante will bring to life a true story of freedom with “The Escape of Caroline.” Admission to the performance is free, with a donation suggested.
Throughout the summer the historic site will okay host to a variety of events, including “Nothing Stops this Train,” a play about the Underground Railroad and Eleutherian College, and educational talks by noted historians.
Larry DeBuhr, board member for Historic Eleutherian College Inc., says that the decision to open the programing series with the storytelling event was partly due to scheduling concerns, but also because the board wanted “to start the series with something that is entertaining, and they have a reputation of giving a great performance. I think getting as many people to Eleutherian College as possible will help to let people know about its existence and will make it easier to restore the building as well as tell the story of one of the most important historic landmarks in Southern Indiana.”
DeBuhr continues, “Eleutherian College is important to the community for a number of reasons. It really is one of the most important historic landmarks in southern Indiana, and it is closely tied to the history of Jefferson County. Its existence represents a group of people who had very strong feelings about the evils of slavery, and who worked hard to free slaves, in spite of risks they faced from arrest and arson. A community that isn’t going to help preserve its cultural history and its identity, will likely not a future that is worth remembering by its children and grandchildren.”
Sander and Asante agree that storytelling is a powerful way to encourage people to remember and connect with their past. Sander says, “A dramatic live telling opens different doors of engagement than do written pieces. Each has its strengths and limitations. I think a strength for this approach is that it involves an emotional component that attempts (successfully I hope) to take the listeners inside the story and allow them to have a vicarious sense of what the real people might have been experiencing.” Asante believes that storytelling helps children to learn about their history. “It’s a way of teaching, of getting kids’ imaginations fired up.” She stresses that “Storytelling is so essential to human beings. Part of our ritual of living, storytelling can be very powerful.”
In developing their program, Sander and Asante worked hard to create authentic voices and characters in order to allow the audience to fully experience the tale of Caroline’s escape. Sander reports that they use many techniques in sharing the tale: as first person characters, as omniscient narrators and simply as themselves. Sander explains, “Sometimes the characters we inhabit talk to each other. Sometimes they talk directly to the audience.”
Asante notes that this performance is a bit different from the work she typically does “because this is a true story we are telling it is important to get all the facts right. The dramatic license is less.” She explains that normally when she tells a story, “you do all you can to pull your listener in” whereas, when she tells the story of Caroline’s escape, she sticks to what actually happened as opposed to what her imagination suggests would make the most compelling tale.”
While Asante has visited Eleutherian College as part of a tour, she is eager to return in her role as storyteller. She believes that the legacy of the school makes it a perfect backdrop for Caroline’s tale. “I’m very excited to stand on that ground and relate history.”
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