Today on the second day of February I am going to discuss Harriet Tubman. I am not just going to list dry facts but instead I’m going to provide highlights of her life and parallel it to today. After all that’s the entire point of studying history to see what we can learn from in this case a hero of yesteryear.
Harriet Tubman was born into slavery and is best known as being the “conductor” of the Underground Railroad. What we often don’t think about is what that meant. Harriet received very brutal treatment that resulted in her suffering a severe head injury which led to epileptic seizures, headaches and visions which Harriet ascribed as religious visions. In 1849 Harriet escaped from these horrible conditions and promptly began saving money from odd jobs and then went back to Maryland where family members remained enslaved and led them from bondage. Let me repeat that SHE WENT BACK. And she did not only return once but repeatedly traversed the dangerous route into the belly of the beast to free more slaves and lead them to freedom.
Harriet’s commitment to the struggle did not end with the Underground Railroad, she was active in helping John Brown plan and recruit for an armed slave revolt. The attempted insurrection was ultimately unsuccessful but Harriet was not present when John Brown and his group were defeated and later tried for treason.
This tragedy did not diminish Harriet’s commitment and when the Civil War broke out she acted as a spy mapping out terrain and gathering valuable intelligence to aid the Union in defeating the Confederacy. She even led armed expeditions in the war and guided the raid at Combahee Ferry freeing over 700 slaves. After the civil war Harriet devoted herself to earning women the right to vote publicly speaking and traveling throughout the country at her own expense to the point where she was left impoverished.
Towards the end of her life she donated a parcel of land to the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church so that it could be used to build a home for the aged and indigent.
I don’t personally remember being told all of this information in school about the length of time she devoted to advancing the cause of freedom and how varied her endeavors were. And to really appreciate her level of sacrifice for the causes she believed in requires digging deeper into the details of her life.
Today we still have a long way to go collectively even though there are examples of black people who have become very successful and left the ‘hood for bigger and better things. And some of them give back in some way but I have to look at her example and ask myself : Will I just be content to toss some dollars back or will I actually go back and lift my people up out of poverty with me? We have ample opportunities to learn from the past and leave the world in a better state than when we entered and I intend to make the most of my opportunities.