While watching Prime TV, I enjoyed the true story of the life of Harriet Tubman. It helped me connect the dots about racism in America and see that much of the racism in the movie is still happening today. Now, 157 years after Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, there’s protesters and demonstrators declaring Black Lives Matter on the front page. Harriet Tubman did her part then — now each of us must do all we can, for all the people we can.
Born circa 1820 as Araminta Ross, she was called Minty. At age 12, she suffered a major injury to her head when she was hit by a 2-pound iron weight that a white man threw at a slave boy attempting to escape. Harriet tried to block him, so it hit her right in her head. After being out cold for a few days, she began having fainting spells and dreams that, as a devout Christian, she strongly believed were from God.
About 10 years later, Harriet married John Tubman, a free Black man; she was 24 years old. They did not have any children. One day in 1851, Harriet freed herself via the Underground Railroad — a network of secret routes and safe houses used by enslaved Africans. They used that route to escape to free states up North and to Canada, and Harriet found it.
Abolitionists and Quaker allies who believed in freedom helped her out by hiding slaves in the floor, cutting a place to hide them and covering it with a rug. They hid in barns, dug holes in the ground that nobody could detect. Abolitionists knew they had very sound plans and were always successful!
The Quakers helped at least 3,000 slaves to escape, especially Thomas Garrett, a well-known Quaker abolitionist.
After making it to freedom, Tubman said, “I looked at my hands to see if I was the same person now that I was free, there was such glory over everything, the sun came up like gold through the trees, and over the fields, and I felt like I was in heaven.”
Harriet went back to Maryland to rescue other family members. They would sing “Swing Low Sweet Chariot” as a signal that Harriet was here for them. Slaves stayed together and hid all along the way until they reached freedom.
Harriet became known as Moses. Singing “Go Down Moses,” slaves knew Harriet was coming and going.
Over 15 years, Harriet conducted her Underground Railroad, and about 300 people were freed. Thousands of others followed her instructions on their own to freedom! The stories told reveal her highly spiritual nature, as well as a grim determination to protect her assignment and those who aided them. She knew God would help her — that was faith. They say she never lost a passenger.
Her first husband died during the Civil War. Later, she married again. After the outbreak of the Civil War, Harriet became a soldier, a spy and was a successful nurse due to her ability to care for the soldiers.
Though Harriet served the Army, they denied payment without even a military pension; she did get a widow’s pension of $20 a month since her second husband served in the Army. After her biography was published, she became known as a dynamic public speaker and storyteller. In her golden years, she worked for the cause of women’s suffrage, traveling from New York to Boston and D.C., speaking in favor of women’s voting rights. When the National Federation of Afro-American Women was founded in 1896, they asked her to be the keynote speaker at its first meeting. Harriet helped to organize the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church.
In the late 1890s, Tubman had successful brain surgery to correct her childhood injury. She spent her last years in a home called the Harriet Tubman Home for Aged and Indigent Negros, which she established in Auburn, New York.
Harriet Tubman died on March 10, 1913, after suffering from pneumonia. She was buried with military honors in Fort Hill Cemetery near her New York home in Auburn.
Lyndia Grant is a speaker/writer living in the D.C. area. Her radio show, “Think on These Things,” airs Fridays at 6 p.m. on 1340 AM (WYCB), a Radio One station. To reach Grant, visit her website, www.lyndiagrant.com, email email@example.com or call 240-602-6295. Follow her on Twitter @LyndiaGrant and on Facebook.