How does Emma Collins help slaves take that final step to freedom in Elijah of Buxton?
Emma Collins helps the slaves feel comfortable so that they can take that final step to freedom without fear.
Most of the time, when slaves finally arrive in the vicinity of Buxton, they have been so traumatized by their past experiences in slavery and during the dangerous trip North that they cannot very easily "bring their selves to show who they are". Like frightened animals they hide in the woods, peeking out but terrified to take that final last step to freedom. As Elijah notes, "if a bunch of us went charging at 'em whooping and raising Cain they might disappear back into the forest for another two, three days". This is where Emma Collins comes in.
Emma, who is only a child, has an uncanny way of making people feel comfortable, with her natural, friendly way and the help of her homemade doll named Birdy. When Pa senses that there are slaves in the area afraid to come forth, he sends for Emma, who nonchalantly acts as if she is playing with Birdy over near the woods where the fugitives are hiding. When she is just close enough for them to hear, she calls out softly, introducing herself as "the first girl who was born free in Buxton", and welcoming them to come out and meet their new neighbors. After a long silence, the man of the family ventures forth, holding his hand out to Emma as if reaching for a lifeline. Emma goes over and takes his hand, escorting him and his family to claim and celebrate their freedom (Chapter 11).