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Thursday, October 23, 2003
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Story of woman's escape from slavery comes to Zanesville national conference

By Bethany Miller

This story is the last of a five-part series featuring this week's featured guests of Ohio University Zanesville Campus' fifth annual national conference, Women of Appalachia: Their Heritage and Accomplishments.

Many residents of the Appalachian region do not realize the part Appalachians played in the Underground Railroad, aiding in the freedom of slaves so many years ago. But a one-woman play is helping to change all that.

Patricia Thomas-WilsonPatricia Thomas-Wilson, actress, playwright, director and producer, captivates her audience as she tells the story of one heroic woman's escape from slavery to freedom with her seven children in The Escape of Jane. As a featured guest of Ohio University Zanesville's Women of Appalachia: Their Heritage and Accomplishments conference from Oct. 23 to Oct. 25, Thomas-Wilson will present the play to Appalachians in hopes they will better understand their region's role in the Underground Railroad.

"A lot of Appalachian people were conductors of the Underground Railroad," Thomas-Wilson says. "There was a lot of [Appalachian] involvement that people don't know about today."

The Ohio University alumna says her play, which she adapted from a book based on a true story by Henry Burke and Dick Croy, contributes to the goal of the fifth annual national conference by presenting the crucial roles women have had in not only Appalachia but also national history.

"This character saved several lives -- the lives of her children," Thomas-Wilson says. "This was highly unusual."

Thomas-Wilson's character in the play vividly unfolds the story of her escape from the moment she discovers her master is selling her children to the instant she arrives on freedom's ground, allowing audience members to picture the family's travels from beginning to end. After her performance at the conference, Thomas-Wilson will have a talkback to allow the audience to tell their own families' interesting stories of involvement in the Underground Railroad.

Not only does "The Escape of Jane" stress the significance of the historical roles women played, but Thomas-Wilson also shows the historical importance of those involved both black and white. In today's history textbooks, there is only a small amount of information on slaves and the slave trade, Thomas-Wilson says.

"This history is something the younger population today needs to hear about," she says. "And I get to extend that chapter of our history."

Outside the time Thomas-Wilson devotes to the play, she works for Shawnee State University at Trimble High School, coordinating a government-funded academic program called ROADMAP, which helps to increase the college enrollment rate of rural Appalachian high school students.

Thomas-Wilson will perform her one-woman play, "The Escape of Jane," on Saturday, Oct. 25, at the Zanesville conference.

Bethany Miller is a student writer for University Communications and Marketing.

For a complete schedule of events for The Women of Appalachia: Their Heritage and Accomplishments, visit www.zanesville.ohiou.edu/ce/wac/default.asp

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