By Alan Mauldin
ALBANY, Georgia (Albany Herald) — As an educator, Angie Gibson taught Georgia history, including that dealing with slavery and the U.S. Civil War.
Now retired, Gibson expanded on that teaching with research to write a book about the Underground Railroad.
Some of the things she learned was that the number of potatoes in a sack could be a signal to a railroad “conductor,” who assisted slaves as they escaped to the North, as to the number of people who would be in a group seeking to escape.
She also included in the book “The Underground Railroad Under My Feet,” the story of how songs today considered as spirituals were “signal songs.” Those include “Wade in the Water,” which gave advice on escaping detection by taking to a waterway, and “Steal Away.”
“What you teach is mandated by state standards,” Gibson said. ”All you have are little bullet points; it’s test-driven. As a teacher, you don’t have time to teach what you would like to teach.
“I hope my book motivates people to find out about their city and how we have inspired the world through our contributions.”
Gibson did some of her research at the Thronateeska Heritage Center. While there is little known about actual members who helped slaves escape to freedom, as participants were secretive about their activities to avoid punishment, she did glean some information. Individuals found to be assisting escaping slaves often were branded to mark them, Gibson said.
Gibson read from old editions of “The Albany Patriot” newspaper, established by Albany’s founder ,Nelson Tift, about slave escapes.
“I thought it was important to include that, that Nelson Tift had a plantation and had slaves,” she said. “A lot of my research was done at Thronateeska. It’s a treasure for information. It had a lot about plantations and ordinances, such as slave ordinances, Sunday (codes). What really surprised me in my research was the actual ordinances.”
From reading about the Sunday restrictions, Gibson learned that all work was prohibited on that day. Individuals caught breaking the code were fined, and for slaves who could not pay the fine, the punishment was 10 to 30 lashes.
“A free person of color had to have a sponsor and also had to pay a fee to live in Albany,” she said. “They were (subject) to a fine or lashes for working on Sunday.”
Her book tells the story of a main character named Mary, named after her mother and another female relative, and follows her from the age of 6 to just before her 16th birthday, covering the Antebellum period to the end of the Civil War.
Mary learns her grandparents are involved with the Underground Railroad and becomes a conductor herself.
She also borrows Enoh Reed, an abolitionist from Albany, New York, who is transposed in some narratives to Albany, Georgia.
An Albany, Georgia, native, Gibson said members on both sides of her family originated in North Carolina. On her father’s side, they were sold to someone in Washington County, Georgia, before ending up in Albany. Her mother’s ancestors made a stop in Alabama before they were sent to Albany.
“The characters on the plantation are my family members,” she said. “The route was that of the actual Underground Railroad.”
Some of the steamboat captains that plied the Flint River were participants in the Underground Railroad, and they also are represented in the book. There also were Latinos who helped escapees reach Cuba, Florida and Mexico, she said.
Gibson actually completed two books. The first, “Shelter in Place,” is a faith-based story of her experiences during the COVID lockdown. That period was when she was able to complete her Underground Railroad work.
“I started writing about four years ago, and then we were on lockdown and I was inspired to complete it,” she said.
The author will hold a book signing from 5:30-7:30 p.m. Thursday at the Thronateeska train depot. The event is open to Artisian Alliance members and individuals who join at that time.
In the future, Gibson said she plans to write a book taking up Mary’s life from the end of the Civil War. At that time, former slaves were leaving the plantations and making decisions on whether to head North or stay in the South.
“I’d like to pick up from the period of Reconstruction and how things changed, to include things that happened like the Camilla massacre and Putney,” she said. “The Freedmen’s Bureau was set up in Albany during Reconstruction and did the investigation into the massacre.”
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