She has been with me a long time. I don't remember exactly when she parted the curtains on the horizon of my historical life and began to make her presence so deeply felt. I recall reading work upon work on her and on the Underground Railroad in general, wondering what spiritual fortitude enabled those ancestors to endure the sometimes brutal encounters they experienced, and as the ole-time Southern ministers used to say, "to just keep on keepin' on" in spite of their circumstances.
At some point in the early 1980s, I decided to delve into the mystical life experiences of Mother Harriet Tubman and to write about them, independently publishing them in a short-run book by that very title, The Mystical Experiences of Harriet Tubman. As I endeavored to corner and cover the "story underneath the story", I began to live with her spirit day in, day out, so much so that Mama Moses, as I called her, begin to step into my dreams on occasion and to reveal telepathically little known information that she wanted me to impart. 1 revealed this at the recent National Association of Black Storytellers Conference. After the talk, other storytellers came up to me and mentioned that what I'd said resonated deeply with them, as they, too, had had such mystical experiences after years of immersing themselves into the lives of those of whom they wrote and told stories, particularly Harriet Tubman (as I now fondly called Mama Moses). (2)
One masterful storyteller who dealt with her personal life stories and those of contemporaries in her work discounted this type of ancestral connection and communication. That was okay. I greatly admired her highly skilled presentation. Nonetheless, when as an elder, "'you know that you know" something at the deepest level ancestrally, your knowledge and wisdom are never shaken, even when challenged, no matter how lovingly or harshly delivered. Even though one doesn't see the water in an ever-flowing well, stop for a moment and look within. It is surely there.
Mother Tubman, Mama Moses, or Nana Tubman--what is the reason for all these very personalized names for the great herstoncal figure known to millions of others simply as Harriet Tubman? Well, we youngsters of the African American South, "back in the day," were taught to give respect to elders and ancestors. The elder women who had rendered years of love and service in the church were affectionately called mother" by all, whether they were related by blood or not. Captive Africans, as master drummer and storyteller Teju refers to enslaved African American ancestors, called Harriet Tubman "Moses" not only due to her liberatory skills, but because no one was recaptured while under her leadership. In those days of "hanging out'" with Harriet Tubman's spirit in the 1980s, I endeavored to honor her innumerable sacrifices by calling her "Mama Moses'* until one night in the fall of the year 2000.
The New York Journey to Posthumous Queenhood
One early fail morning, I didn't write it down so I don't recall exactly when, but it was a fall night in the year 2000 shortly after the young unarmed African vendor, Amadou Diallo had been killed. Massive police gunfire hit him as he attempted to enter his home. I sat awake throughout the darkness of the post-midnight Brooklyn hours just meditating, contemplating this state of affairs well over a century after bondage had supposedly ceased. Suddenly a. message--no a divine directive--streamed into my-consciousness. "We must begin to take those great ones back to Africa who have honored their ancestral legacy and served as indefatigable love warriors on these shores." It continued that this should begin with having Mama Moses--Mother Harriet Ross Tubman Davis--enstooled as a Queen Mother in Africa. (3)
"How in the world, I silently questioned, "do I do something like that? This little Tennessee poet? I don't have a clue about how to pull something like that off."
"Call John Branch. …