In children’s books, scholarly texts, popular culture and any Black History Month curriculum, Harriet Tubman is a fixture, and rightfully so: Her bravery still astounds.
Born a slave in Maryland during 1822, the adolescent Tubman (then Araminta Ross) suffered a blow to her head from a cruel overseer, as a result suffering seizures, headaches and hallucinations for the rest of her life. Nonetheless, in her late 20s she escaped to freedom in Philadelphia and made more than a dozen trips back to Maryland, leading both her own family and dozens of other slaves to freedom.
Her Underground Railroad is legend: a complex, covert system of people and places on which she famously “never lost a passenger.” In her later years, she became active in women’s suffrage, surviving until her early 90s.
In Tubman’s day, women were property, while Black women were not even considered human. Their bodies were auctioned off to the highest bidder, their children sold, their breasts often used to feed others’ children. Today, although incredible strides in women’s rights and race relations have been made, Black women’s bodies are still problematic terrain–look no further than the current abortion debates that target Black women.
Moreover, as feminists such as Jessica Valenti and Courtney E. Martin have written, sexism still weaves its ugly head in virtually every corner of American political, public and private life. For single Black women, the median wealth is astonishly low.
Still, despite the work that needs to be done, I am abundantly hopeful. The legacy of Tubman has taught me that much. Our foremothers blazed trails even as they met danger at every step. On the anniversary of Tubman’s March 10, 1913 death, her example is a shining one of what is possible and what one committed person can do.
“Harriet Tubman” sung by Coronlaine show choir (Brazil):
Learn more about women’s history here.