Vase with Eliza Escaping with Little Harry Over the Ice


Monologue by Christian Basnight '24

Fall 2021

Good evening, students and faculty. My name is Eliza Harris, and I’ve been appointed by your esteemed institution to tell y’all a bit about slavery through sharing my experiences.

Now being held in bondage is not ideal under hardly any circumstances. However, God blessed me with serving a considerate family in Mr. & Mrs. Shelby. I was also blessed to have my loving, caring husband, George. Above all, however, I adored caring for my dearest son, Harry.

My husband often expressed skepticism about God due to the harsh treatment received by his enslaver, Mr. Harris. However, I believe God has a purpose for any and everything.

One day George told me his plan of escaping to Canada where’d he work and attempt to buy little Harry and me out of slavery. Earlier that day, I overheard Mr. Shelby talk with the sinful slave trader, Mr. Haley about stripping my son away from me and selling him elsewhere. Panicked, I spoke to Mrs. Shelby about this where she reassured me Harry would stay put. However, that night I heard Mr. Shelby tell his wife that he’d already sold little Harry.

Instantly both fear and anger settled over me. How could they take my child away from me, his mother? How would he survive without me? How would I survive without him? Casting these inner thoughts aside, I immediately gathered my son along with a few key possessions and set out into the night.

From the border of Kentucky, I ran all night and then all day, trying to reach the northern shores of the Ohio River. This day of travel was by far one of the hardest things I’ve ever endured. My feet were bound with blisters and sores from the countless miles I ran. My muscles and joints ached from carrying Harry in my arms the entire time. Also, Harry, who grew tired of the constant trekking, frequently lamented his discomfort through pained cries. Despite these roadblocks, we ultimately reached a town on the south side. However, I was disheartened to discover the ferries were out of order, due to the wintery weather conditions freezing the river.

I waited in a little public house because a gentleman was also planning to try to cross the river that night and I hoped to cross with him. However, I discovered that Mr. Haley was in town which meant that time was running out for my son. Almost instinctively, I charged towards the icy river. I took my leap of faith, literally, and began bounding from one ice block to another.

For the first time during this treacherous journey, I feared for my health more than my son’s. One mishap, one fatal slip could be the end of it. If I faltered, he faltered. At one moment in particular I just wanted to quit. Harry and I were nearly freezing to death. My feet were bloody, cut up to shreds.

In the midst of all this, I adopted my husband’s mindset and began challenging God.

I pleaded to him, “Why do I and others alike have to go through these extreme lengths just to protect what is ours? Mrs. Shelby and other white women don’t have to deal with the fear of losing a child and not knowing the fate they’ll suffer through these tyrannous conditions!”

Then, I cried out even louder to the Lord above:

“Can’t you hear me? Can’t you feel my pain? Can’t you see my fear? Why would you place this burden upon me? Why would you bless me with something so beautiful, motherhood, then heartlessly deprive me of my joy? This isn’t fair! I’ve always obeyed. Obeyed my husband, obeyed my enslavers, but chiefly you, God. I obeyed you. What’s my purpose?”

Amidst this anger, an overwhelming wave of fear crashed harder than ever.  Once again, I thought about the risk I was taking even leaving the Shelbys. Not only am I away from my husband, but the thought of being caught is too much to consume. Even if I do make it across this river, someone can easily turn me in and I’ll face the harshest of punishments. Should I just go back and surrender?

Then I remembered the countless other Black mothers whose children were taken from them and the detrimental impact that had upon them eternally. I’ve witnessed countless slave auctions where mothers wept the deepest cries of sorrow when their children were stripped from their nurturing arms. The subsequent lashings they endured throughout these rebuttals were nothing compared to the pain of surrendering your child.

At that point, I realized that none of those prior fears compared to the fear of losing my son. That flood of memories was a sign from God, telling me my purpose. This was never going to be easy. Life and motherhood is precious for a reason, and ought to be fought for with every last fiber of being. A lot of those mothers I saw didn’t have the chance I had to flee. I was able to avoid having the shock and terror of having my son deprived of my grasp. This was nothing but a blessing from God.

From there forward, I relied on my God more than ever, who gave me that strength to keep faith. I had to keep going. Keep pushing. For Harry. For me...