Black History Month: Harriet Tubman


FORT WORTH, Texas February 11, 2014We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness…..

~ Declaration of Independence, July 4, 1776

Before the birth of our nation people lived according to the station in which they were born. Until our Forefathers defied England’s King, dreams of a better life didn’t exist for most.

With a few exceptions you lived the life that your parents and ancestors did. If you were born a slave, you died a slave. If you were born a serf, you died a serf. If born a noble, you died a noble. Society didn’t allow for changes. No exceptions.

Then, influenced by the Enlightenment, a group of educated denizens of a far off colony opposed an English King and social norms. They believed a man’s life was his own to live and happiness his own to pursue. That right came from God; they would govern themselves.

The signers of our most famous treasonous document knew it wouldn’t grant freedom for everyone. Laying the groundwork for it was the best they could do at the time. For the stroke of a pen does not change societal views or the hearts of the people.

They did however know that Freedom is a gift from God Himself. Governments don’t give Freedom; they can only control how much of it we enjoy.

The result of this belief was the creation of a new form of government. A government designed to allow citizens to control their own destiny.

This type of government “of the people, by the people, and for the people” would be the new norm.  

Yet freedom as a concept and freedom as a reality are two separate things. Not every American achieved that Freedom without significant personal sacrifice. One such American worked and risked her own life for not only her own freedom but for that of hundreds of others as well.

Harriet Tubman 3Harriet Tubman.

This lady was truly amazing. Born into the horrors of slavery she escaped and helped create a system of people, places and houses to aid slaves to freedom called The Underground Railroad. Once free, not everything had changed, however. Harriet lived at a time when the rights and prospects for women were strictly limited. As a black woman she was at the bottom of society.

However, those limits did not hold her back from life or from doing what was right.  And in the process she tore down barriers so that others would benefit from her struggles.  Harriett Tubman made inroads for civil rights and black equality.

She fought against the established rule and changed the world for good.

Her name became synonymous with Moses. In nineteen missions she led over three hundred slaves from the Eastern shore of Maryland, through Delaware and into Pennsylvania where they might find freedom.

A feat accomplished all the while suffering from a chronic head injury, now thought to be temporal lobe epilepsy. The injury, brought about from a blow to her head by a slave owner caused her to pass out without warning.

Not even that could deter her. In later interviews she declared,

“There was one of two things I had a right to, liberty or death; if I could not have one, I would have the other.”

Lesser known is that Harriet worked for the Union Army during the Civil War.

Ms. Tubman was a fixture in the Union Army camps as a spy, cook, and nurse of wounded soldiers.  She also put to good use her knowledge of covert travel and subterfuge. This lady was also the first woman in US military history to plan and lead an armed assault.

Harriet guided three steamboats around Confederate mines on the Combahee River. Once landed, troops raided and set fire to plantations. During this the boat whistle blew sounding freedom to the slaves.

This one courageous act alone freed more than seven hundred people.

The Women’s Suffrage Movement was another place where Ms. Tubman fought as well.  She frequented meetings and spoke about her actions throughout the Civil War.

Harriet also believed the right to vote was vital to preserving freedom. When asked if women should vote, Ms. Tubman replied: “I suffered enough to believe it.”

Harriet was active in her faith at the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church in Auburn, New York.  In 1903 she gave land to the church for a rest home for African-Americans. Her dream was realized when the doors to the Harriet Tubman Home for the Aged opened in 1908.

Counted among her friends were important contemporaries of the day; Fredrick Douglass, John Brown, Booker T. Washington, Susan B. Anthony, and US Senator and former New York State Governor William H. Seward and his wife Frances.

In her later years as she recalled her first trip to into Pennsylvania and to freedom, she is quoted as saying:

 “When I found I had crossed that line, I looked at my hands to see if I was the same person. There was such a glory over everything; the sun came like gold through the trees, and over the fields, and I felt like I was in Heaven.”

Unless taken from you, those of us born free can’t begin to truly appreciate her statement.

Harriet Tubman has, among her many achievements also been honored by the United States Senate:

SRES 455 ATS 111TH CONGRESS 2d Session S. RES. 455 Honoring the life, heroism, and service of Harriet Tubman.

 Now, therefore, be it Resolved, That the Senate–

(1) honors the life and courageous heroism of Harriet Tubman;

(2) recognizes the great contributions made by Harriet Tubman throughout her lifelong service and commitment to liberty, justice, and equality for all; and

(3) encourages the people of the United States to remember the courageous life of Harriet Tubman, a true hero.

It was passed with Unanimous Consent of the U.S. Senate on March 15, 2010.

Other commendations for her bravery and perseverance include:

* SS Harriet Tubman – a Liberty ship launched in 1944

*Commemoration in a calendar of saints by the Episcopal Church

*Named one of the most famous civilians in American history in a survey at the end of the twentieth century – third only to Betsy Ross and Paul Revere

*The Harriet Tubman commemorative postage stamp

*Ms. Tubman has been honored with dozens of schools named for her, plaques bearing her likeness are displayed, and parks and civic holidays that are named for her.

When she died in March 1913 Harriet was buried with military honors at Fort Hill Cemetery, Auburn, New York.  The keynote speaker for her was Booker T. Washington – the last African-American activist born into slavery.

Harriet Tubman had everything against her yet didn’t let it keep her from finding freedom for herself and hundreds of others. It did not keep her from changing the world.

This amazing lady made America and the rest of the world a better place by breaking the bonds of slavery of one form or another.  And she did it with grace, determination, and a never-ending concern for her fellow man.

And that benefits all Americans.


Read more of Claire’s work at Feed the Mind, Nourish the Soul in the Communities Digital News and Greater Fort Worth Writers.

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