Black History Month: Great-granddaughter of slave conveys life lessons


By TIM YOVICH

VINDICATOR TRUMBULL STAFF

PEOPLE CAN BECOME enslaved if they are addicted to drugs or alcohol, uneducated or act as if they can do anything they want.

That was the message taught Monday to the pupils of Jefferson Elementary School by Novella Slaughter of the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center in Cincinnati.

“Slavery hasn’t stopped because we still have people who need our help,” Slaughter told them.

Slaughter was able to communicate with the pupils because of her research about her great-grandmother, Charity Craddock, who escaped slavery when she left Virginia at 12.

Slaughter recalled family members whispering about her great-grandmother. Her family’s reluctance to talk openly about her and the urging of her son led her to begin studying her roots.

From there, she created the character of Sadie Wilkins. “Miss Sadie,” as she refers to her alter ego, escaped to Canada through the Underground Railroad.

Slaughter’s re-enactment is in honor of her great-grandmother.

Slaves fled the South to head to Canada, Slaughter told the pupils, because it was under British rule and slavery was outlawed.

“The cities of Ohio helped slaves the most,” she said, noting that those people who helped the slaves escape could have lost their property or been put in jail.

That also applied to train conductors who allowed those seeking freedom onto their trains to take them from one station to another on their journey north.

The railroad was not only physical, such as houses and tunnels, but included anyone who gave them help.

Songs played an important part in the run to freedom, Slaughter said.

She called attention to the song “Follow the Drinking Gourd.” Gourds were used as water dippers during slavery, and it reminded those on the run to follow the Big Dipper constellation north.

“Wade in the Water,” another song, reminded them to use the water so their scent couldn’t be picked up by dogs as they ran from their owners.

She noted that most runaway slaves were men because girls as young as 13 were giving birth.

In her role as Miss Sadie, Slaughter talked of her character’s mother who told her she was free before her capture in Africa.

“When I’m talking about Africa, I’m talking of freedom,” Miss Sadie said her mother would constantly tell her.

Reverting to herself, Slaughter told the pupils they must have the attitude that they can achieve anything as opposed to believing they can do anything they want and have their freedom taken from them.

She pointed out that the lack of education results in unemployment, a form of slavery, while drug addiction brings the same result.

Makhi Hemmingway, 10, said he learned freedom is always the direction to take and to stay away from drugs and alcohol.

Another 10-year-old, Linda Holbrook, explained that if she were to run away for her freedom, she would take her parents along.

Slaughter lives in Springboro, Ohio, just south of Dayton, and has been working for the center for four years. She’s originally from Virginia.

yovich@vindy.com

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