The Eastern New Mexico News - Serving Clovis, Portales and the Surrounding Communities

By Alisa Boswell-Gore

Road to history: Adventures of a 50-year friendship


Last updated 2/6/2021 at 4:25pm

Linda Sumption

Linda Sumption poses with the Harriet Tubman mural, "Take my Hand," at the Tubman Museum in Cambridge, Maryland.

A distance of more than 2,000 miles doesn't interfere with a half-century friendship and a shared passion for history.

Just ask Linda Sumption of Portales and Jan Metcalf of Bristol, New Hampshire.

"We were college friends. I eventually moved to New Mexico, and Janet to Maryland then New Hampshire, but we get together and travel together. You are fortunate if you have friends for a lifetime, and Jan and I have been friends for a lifetime," Sumption said.

"We've always shared a strong interest in similar things," added Metcalf.

One of those common interests - a passion for U.S. history, particularly civil rights history.

"When we were in college, we went to a small, conservative college in South Dakota that was just about 100 percent white students, and we went there during the 1960s," Metcalf said. "The college had decided to integrate the school, and there ended up being about five Black students who came from all over the country. They were so isolated and alone on that campus, in that part of the world, and Linda and I got to know them."

Sumption and Metcalf said becoming close friends with the students gave them a deeper understanding of the racial issues within their country, and it drove an interest and passion for civil rights history.

"The civil rights movement was really interesting to me and Jan as college students, and it proceeded throughout the years, and last year, it continued as an interest in the underground railroad," Sumption said.

So last January, Sumption flew to Metcalf's home in New Hampshire, and the two women loaded up for a road trip to Maryland where they traveled the countryside, visiting historic landmarks and buildings along the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad Byway.

"It's quite an extensive tour of the eastern seaboard. Early on, we visited the Harriet Tubman Museum (in Cambridge, Maryland)," Metcalf said.

The two women visited the site that once housed the plantation where Tubman grew up as a slave and the general store where a rock was thrown at her head, causing the brain injury that plagued her for most of her life.

"It was almost like being on hallowed ground in a sense, because it was the beginning of Harriet Tubman," Sumption said.

"You've read your entire life about this thing that affected her for her entire life, and here you are standing in front of the place where it happened," Metcalf said. "To me, that was the remarkable piece of this. Any time you go to a historical marker that places you back in that time is incredible. It makes you feel connected and alive with history."

There were unexpected treasures along the way, including an old cemetery with tombstones from before the Civil War.

Linda Sumption

Sumption, left, and Jan Metcalf pose in front of the Brodess Farm plot in Bucktown, Maryland, where Tubman lived as a slave.

The road to history is far from over for the long-time friends, who plan to continue their civil rights history tour of the U.S.

"I would really like to do an ambitious civil rights tour of the South," said Sumption, adding there is a new memorial dedicated to the history of lynching that she would like to see in Alabama -- The National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery.

"Whenever we can, we'll get back to it," Sumption said. "It will take planning and coordination, and it will be at the top of our list."

And the best part of these historic travels, the two women said - being able to experience it with a good friend.

"I can't think of anything better to do in my senior years than to get on the scene of American history, particularly civil rights history," Sumption said.


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