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An African American Experience: Honoring Susie King Taylor and Her Journey of Escape

Robin Foster
by Robin Foster

I read Susie King Taylor’s (1848-1912) autobiography where she told of her enslaved experiences with grandmother, Dolly, escaping to freedom, working as an army nurse and teacher, returning to Georgia to marry Russell Taylor, and moving to Boston.

Over a week ago, I learned on Facebook that Hermina Glass-Hill has put together a commemoration to honor her life, and of course, I had to go. August 6 was her birthday.

The celebration literally changed my life. We in South Carolina give some attention to Susie and the fact that she served with the 33rd US Colored Troops, but going to the place where she went to church and going to the site where she escaped from enslavement definitely had a huge impact on me.

Hermina definitely thought through the whole experience from the Friday night sessions to the Saturday afternoon lunch, and everyone worked together to make it a memorable experience for all those who attended.

Hermina posted the following invitation on Facebook and 20 things Susie had accomplished by the age of 22:

WHAT IS HER SIGNIFICANCE YOU ASK?

1) She was literate having almost a high school education DURING SLAVERY
2) She resisted slavery in Liberty County, GA
3) She collaborated with other slaves to plan an escape
4) She successfully executed an escape plan
5) She was rescued by the Union Navy
6) She taught other runaway slaves their letters and numbers
7) She was one of the first women to enlist in the 1st S.C. Volunteers, 33rd USCT Regiment
8) She used knowledge of natural herbs as medicine
9) She was a nurse to wounded soldiers
10) She was a cook
11) She was a musket cleaner
12) She was the first federally funded teacher in Georgia on St. Simons Island during the Civil War
13) She was a wife
14) She was prepared to go to Africa if the Union Army lost the War
15) She opened a school for free people in Savannah, GA during Reconstruction
16) She opened a school for free people in Midway/Dorchester/Isle of Wight, GA
17) She opened a night school for free people in Savannah, GA
18) She became an industrious entrepreneur
19) She traveled across state lines on many occasions
20) All of this by the age of 22!

 

Mami Wata Rising Celebration

Mami Wata Rising Celebration Flyer

 

The whole experience was complete. For now, I would like to just focus on one part of the two days.  That is the 5:00 AM Commemorative Escape to Freedom Gathering on the Isle of Wight/Grest Island in Midway, GA.

On Friday after evening sessions, we retired to make it back with everyone the next morning at 5:00 am. I knew Susie had been taught and operated out of the sense of that great Mati Wata spirit long before her escape.  Yes, 5:00 am the next morning was not too early for us even though we did not get to bed before 11 pm. We made it.

We left our hotel at 4:30 am and gathered at the church in Midway. Then we journeyed to Grest Plantation were Susie escaped. Hermina recorded the experience. It was dark, and mosquitoes were hot on our trail:

2018 Susie King Taylor MAMI WATA RISING INTERNATIONAL CONFERENCE: The 5:00 AM Commemorative Escape to Freedom Gathering on Isle of Wight/Grest Island in Midway, GA

2018 Susie King Taylor MAMI WATA RISING INTERNATIONAL CONFERENCE:
The 5:00 AM Commemorative Escape to Freedom Gathering on Isle of Wight/Grest Island in Midway, GA

Below is a link to a video of the commemorative escape gathering:

2018 Susie King Taylor MAMI WATA RISING INTERNATIONAL CONFERENCE:
The 5:00 AM Commemorative Escape to Freedom Gathering on Isle of Wight/Grest Island in Midway, GA

 

Jones Creek. Photo by Ellis McClure

Jones Creek. Photo by Ellis McClure

 

For the first time in my life I had experienced an escape. Susie had the experience and teachings of her mother and grandmother for years before this day. She carried them with her on the journey of her escape. She carried with her the spirit and teachings of her ancestors from Africa.

Susie is not well known right now, but she carried that same spirit with her to serve with the 33rd Untied States Colored Troops and beyond. We are journeying to find the story of our ancestors. Most are next to impossible, but one day we will find them. Let us strive to look past the meager names and dates. Those things are important, but so are the stories of how they got over. There are many Susie’s for us to find and document.

We have clues, but we have to go back to the communities where they lived to see for ourselves what survives: the basic places such as churches, neighborhoods, libraries, newspapers, schools, courthouses, and even fraternal organizations. Then we can combine our stories with others to get a clearer idea of who they were.

In looking back, we will find we are a special people. We were given the means to do anything we had to do. The descendants of African American enslaved people stand on the shoulders of true greatness. Let us tell our stories. Hermina has published a book for children entitled Oh Susannah! Happy Birthday, Susie! based on Susie King Taylor’s life. Even our children can know her story.

Sharpen the Saw

Have you read Reminiscences of My Life in CampReminiscences of My Life in Camp with the 33d United States Colored Troops Late 1st S. C. Volunteers by Susie King Taylor.

Read it again and go to celebrate Susie’s birthday with us next year. You will be inspired, as I have, to find and tell your story. How far are you in retelling your ancestor’s story? Share with us in our Facebook Group.

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