By Luana M. Graves Sellars
Photo Credit: Lisa Staff
If you weren’t aware, Harriett Tubman walks around Hilton Head every day. Sure, she was physically here around the Civil War years, in Historic Mitchelville, but her words and legacy continue to live on through local resident Cora Miller and an incredible transformation, whenever the inspiration strikes. For years, when the character Harriett Tubman is included in an event, whether it’s during February’s Annual Gullah Celebration, special church events or giving tours and presentations at Mitchelville’s Freedom Park or if you’ve seen and heard the character, it’s been Cora Miller who brings her to life by recreating her voice and sharing poignant stories about her life’s experiences.
What’s different about her depiction of Harriett, is that she doesn’t work from a prepared script or materials. Cora goes on to explain that “history books only talk about Tubman freeing the slaves. I believe that God has placed her spirit in me to be a vessel for her to tell the stories that were never told.” Unlike most character representations, Cora makes the experience more personal by intertwining names of her relatives into her skits. Her passion and personalization is evident in how her audience reacts. “I touch people when I do Harriett Tubman. They see me transform into her and that touches them. I’ve seen men and women cry after hearing more about what she has done. You never hear the same story twice, because I am only the vessel. I pray before each time and then the words just flow. I don’t hear or see me,” she says.
Embodying Harriett Tubman is only the beginning of Cora’s creativity and talents. Also known locally as a creative and vocal artist. Her artistic talents can be seen in her jewelry designs, sea island wreaths and unique wedding brooms, as well as a member of the Voices of El Shaddi for 25 years. “We are a singing group, but we are also a family.” She enjoys being part of the group because, “singing God’s praises lets us touch one person at a time through song.” In her spare time, she is an avid angler, who loves to fish so much, that she “carries her rod in the car. I can fish anywhere,” she says.
Born in Summerton, SC, and raised in Aiken, Cora is the granddaughter of a slave master’s daughter. Growing up, she knew that she was a Geechee, but it wasn’t until she came to Hilton Head that she became aware of the Gullah. The self-described “people magnet” worked in hospitality for more than 35 years.
Like most tourists, Cora came here on vacation. Reminiscing about coming onto Hilton Head, she said, “when I came across the bridge for the first time, there was a full moon. [Looking across the water] there was no end to what I could see, and I knew that I was home. [I have always felt that] the moon will always bring you home. Its energy and the water spoke to my spirit, which said ‘this is it’.” Once the vacation was over, she went back home, resigned her job and returned in two weeks. Cora instantly felt as if she was home when she came here. Between the moon and the water, they spoke to her and because of that Harriett Tubman’s voice continues on. Harriett will be walking through Historic Mitchelville again during the park’s annual Juneteenth celebration on June 15th. If you see her, be sure to say hello.
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