Harriet Tubman, Led Slaves through the Underground Railroad to Freedom was first published three years ago, but I felt compelled to republish again because of who she stood for. Harriet Tubman was very courageous, and understood that life was more than about her.Harriet Tubman: Conductor on the Underground Railroad
Today, we are living in an age of me-me-me, and sometimes we lose our humanity because of our quest to succeed. Who is one person that you can help today? The help could be in the form of mentoring. Mentoring doesn’t have to be done the traditional way, it could be mentoring in moments. We can make a difference, one person at a time.
Name: Harriet Tubman (Born Araminta Harriet Ross)
Birth Date: 1821 – March 10, 1913
Job Functions: Abolitionist
Known For: Leading slaves through the Underground Railroad to freedom
Mini Biography of Harriet Tubman
Making tough decisions, do you have the courage to go it alone?
Harriet Tubman stands for courage and persistence, and many of us can learn important lessons from her life. Born into slavery, Tubman had a difficult life. Her owner, Edward Brodas hired out his slaves and sold others. While they were hired out, the slaves were often abused and brutally assaulted.
When she was 15 years old, her overseer threw a lead weight which hit her in the head. Tubman was in a coma for several weeks and the head injury triggered narcoleptic seizures that she had to endure for the rest of her life. When Edward Brodas died in 1849, Tubman had two choices, escape or stay and allow herself and her brothers to be sold to pay off her master’s debts. She decided to free herself.
In those days, slaves used songs and hymns as a communication tool. While walking through the slave quarters one day, Harriet Tubman sang, “When that old chariot comes/I’m going to leave you/ I’m bound for the promised land/ Friends, I’m going to leave you.” This was a coded message telling her friends and family that she planned to escape.
That evening, Tubman and her two brothers left the plantation knowing that they would be severely punished if found. Shortly after leaving, her brothers got cold feet and didn’t want to take the risk, so they returned to the plantation, but this courageous woman decided to go it alone. Would you have the courage to make the same choice, had you been in Harriet Tubman’s situation?
Harriet Tubman: The Road to FreedomHarriet Tubman: Conductor on the Underground RailroadBound for the Promised Land: Harriet Tubman: Portrait of an American HeroHarriet Tubman: The Moses of Her People
What gave Harriet Tubman the courage to free herself from slavery?
Interestingly, during her teenage years, Harriet Tubman grew more faithful, and as she matured, she gained an understanding of the unjustness of slavery. She also saw parallels between slavery, and Moses leading the Israelites to the promised land, and hence her name, ‘Moses of her people.’
This understanding was the impetus for escape when the time was right. Timing is everything. Her belief also gave her the courage, to return and free other slaves – she was leading her people to the promised land in Northern states in the US and in St Catharines, Ontario, Canada.
Although Harriet Tubman was feeling very alone, she continued on her trek, traveling only at nights, following the north star until she arrived in Philadelphia, a hotbed of abolitionist activity, where she found freedom.
No one attains success alone, and Tubman received help from both whites and blacks who were anti-slavery. While in Philadelphia, she found employment, cooking, laundering and cleaning, saving every penny to finance the escape of her family.
One step forward, two steps backward, not all smooth sailing for Harriet Tubman
In 1850, Congress passes the Fugitive Slave Law as a part of the Missouri Compromise, and with the passage of this law, Tubman’s and other blacks’ freedom were at risk. What this law meant was any white person could send a black person to the South into enslavement.
Tubman started to visit the Philadelphia Vigilance Committee organized and led by James Miller McKim and William Still to assist fugitive slaves. From William Stills Tubman learned about the Underground Railroad, which wasn’t a railroad, but “secret networks of white and black abolitionists who aided escaped slaves as they made their way north.”
In the Vigilance Committee office, Tubman developed plans for her first escape, which turned out to be her sister Mary – who Brodas had sold – and her two nieces. Because of the Fugitive Slave Act, life in the North was dangerous for self-freed and other slaves so Tubman traveled to St Catharines, Ontario, Canada, a small city where a large number of escaped blacks were living. She lived in the community from 1851 to 1857. During that time, she made two trips to the South to assist slaves to safety.
Over the years, Harriet Tubman made some daring trips leading blacks to freedom. She was deemed a menace by pro-slavery supporters, so much so, that at one point, in 1858, “a group of Maryland slaveholders put a price of $40,000 on her head.” Tubman’s most daring escape was rescuing her elderly parents in a cart that she made. Her daring rescue missions gained her the admiration of other abolitionists such as Frederick Douglass and Susan B Anthony.
Harriet Tubman assists in the American Civil War
Harriet Tubman believed that she had a duty to the Union, therefore traveled to South Carolina to support the Union activities, and while there she nursed the wounded black soldiers and conducted spy missions. She was also the first woman to lead an armed military expedition when she “guided Colonel James Montgomery and his black troops on a successful raid in 1863.”
After the Civil War, Tubman ramped up her fight for women’s rights and civil rights for blacks. She struggled financially which was unjust because she greatly assisted in the Civil War, yet she was denied a military pension. She however received a widow’s pension, and later a Civil War nurse’s pension. A lifelong dream of Tubman was to build a home for the aged. In 1896, she purchased 25 acres of land, and in 1903, the Harriet Tubman Home for Aged and Indigent Colored People was founded.
Final Thoughts on Harriet Tubman, Woman of Courage
After Harriet Tubman freed herself from slavery, it is believed that she returned up to 19 times to the South to lead 300 enslaved blacks to freedom. Please let me know your thoughts in the comments section below. If you haven’t done so already, now is also the time to read Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass (Dover Thrift Editions), (free copy of book).
Sources: Works Cited/Referenced
American Civil War Reference Library
Americans at War
Contemporary Black Biography
Encyclopedia of African-American Culture and History
International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences
Notable Black American Women
Women in World History – A Biographical Encyclopedia