Last fall, some of the staff at Lee & Low wanted to find out what it was like to walk twelve miles. Why? We were inspired by the feat that Frederick Douglass’ mother accomplishes in Love Twelve Miles Long by Glenda Armand and Colin Bootman: she walks twelve miles by night to visit her son. As happened often with slave families, Frederick was separated from her at birth and sent to live on another plantation, so this was the only way that he was going to be able to see her.
So, one brisk November morning, four of us met near Wall Street to begin a journey that would take us all day. Honestly, the longer that the trip took, the more we realized what an incredibly daunting task this actually was. When we started the walk, we figured it would take a few hours, but imagined that we would be back in the office in time for a well-deserved lunch.
Ha. After actually walking the amazing distance, we realized how much we overestimated our own abilities, and how much we underestimated the immense display of love that Harriet Bailey performed for her son. Coming to this realization, it made me think about how much effort we must sometimes put into seeing those that we love. There are so many reasons why parents might have to be separated from their children for a period of time, or spouses from each other, or siblings. Even today, work, school, or other family obligations can lead to months or years apart. However, it’s the effort that we put in to keep those relationships strong that really impacts them. Douglass mentioned how his mother impacted him, even though he was not able to spend much time with her. These late night visits kept her in his heart and helped to mold him into the great leader that he became.
The walk brought up so many other things to consider as well (we had a long way to go, and a lot to think about). For instance, the convenience of transportation. Not only would Harriet not have taxis, buses, or a subway in the 1800s, but it would take over a century until African Americans were legally permitted to use them without any restriction.
Harriet also worked in the fields all day before taking this walk. And she had to walk all the way back. I pretty much stayed off of my feet the entire evening afterwards, and didn’t move much the next day. The fact that Harriet could work all day at hard labor, walk twelve miles to see her son for just a short time before walking twelve miles back to work again the next day, shows the amazing power of love. This is something that we can often forget when caught up in the turmoil of the world at large. But as long as there is love, there is hope.
If you haven’t seen the video of our walk yet, you should take a look now. Be sure to let us know what you think in the comment section below! Also, if you want to see more photos, check out our Facebook page.