How Enslaved Africans in Alabama used Tree Bark as Shoes to Gain Freedom

Stephen Nartey September 14, 2022
freedom garden in pittsburgh/Photo credit: Hitorical marker databse

Heroic tales have often been told of the ingenuity and heroic acts of the enslaved and how they gained their freedom from their masters.

But, history and research has been silent on one aspect of this journey to freedom by the enslaved, which is how plants species played a key role in the success of plot to escape the shackles of slavery.

One fundamental part of escaping is how succeed in the wild and survive during the run away from the plantation, according to Allegheny Front.

A creative way many enslaved Africans escaped from slavery in Alabama was to use the bark of trees as shoes and crafted their own weapons out of hardwood to defend themselves from their attackers and hunt dogs which were sent to track them.

This history was discovered through a project between the Frick Environmental Center and Senator John Heinz History Center dubbed from slavery to freedom garden.

Samuel Black, the director of African American programs at the Senator John Heinz History Center, said there are over 50 plant species that engineered the escape and survival of the enslaved Africans who travelled from the north in search of their freedom.

He said though they have been able to grow some of the plant species at the Frick Environmental Center, it is important to note that vegetables such okra, collards, tomatoes, cowpeas ensured the survival of the runaway slaves.

They plants also provided them with income as they depended on it to sell on the market to facilitate their sustenance when they arrived in Pittsburgh, Cleveland and Buffalo.

Black said the enslaved need strength and good health while on their journey to freedom so some depended on wild lettuce, which became a detoxifier to cleanse their system while on the run.

He said the enslaved people brewed the wild lettuce and drank it especially the women who used it to control their menses.

He added that the only they could survive the harsh environmental conditions in the wild and attacks depended heavily on their creative prowess.

He noted that the ‘slavery to freedom garden’ to institutionalize the heroism and ingenuity of the enslaved African Americans and their will to freedom.

Black said the literature of these acts enables them to understand the impact the natural environment had on their sustenance and victory over slavery.

Camila Rivera-Tinsley, the director of Education and the Frick Environmental Center for the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy, on her part, indicated that she expects people who visit the freedom garden will be able to connect with this history and relate to nature on their own appreciation.

She added that she wants people to be inspired about the sense of agency the wild provided the enslaved in their escape from the chains of their slave masters.

Though the garden is still being replenished with new plant species, there are more trees like pawpaws, shrubs and other food plants that are being grown in the freedom garden.

Last Edited by:Francis Akhalbey Updated: September 15, 2022


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