Date: Mon, 29 Mar 1999 22:29:06 -0800 (PST)
From: Ken Boettcher <email@example.com>
Subject: [BRC-NEWS] The Struggle of ‘General’ Harriet Tubman
The Heroic Struggle of ‘General’ Tubman
By B.G., The People, Vol.108 no.12, March 1999—International Women's Day
March is Women's History Month, and March 8 is International Women's Day, a day that no longer receives the attention it should. To neglect the observation of this day is unfortunate for, as THE PEOPLE pointed out in its March 1997 issue, "the plight of women, particularly working-class women, has hardly improved with the passage of time." However, the preservation of Women's History Month presents an opportunity to honor the struggles and achievements of our sisters over time.
One woman who truly merits honor for her great courage and her manifold accomplishments under great duress is the ex-slave and dedicated abolitionist, Harriet Tubman.
Tubman was born into slavery about 1820. Her parents' parents were natives of Africa, having been brought in chains to America as human chattel.
As a child, Tubman was forced to labor in many capacities, either for her master or for persons who hired her service from her master. In all these labors, she proved to be an unsatisfactory servant whose work brought forth continual complaints. Slaves frequently displayed quiet methods of rebellion against their masters, such as pretending not to understand directions given, slowing down, doing poor work, damaging the master's tools, hoeing up crop seedlings along with the weeds and numerous other annoyances.
When she was about 13, Tubman's work habits evidently angered an overseer who bashed her in the head with a two-pound weight, causing a fractured skull. She never completely recovered from this injury and suffered from spells of drowsiness for the rest of her life.
Heavy work in the fields built up her muscular strength and increased her stamina, resulting in a remarkable endurance. These physical qualities, coupled with her mental alertness, made her very effective in later years when she became a conductor on the Underground Railroad leading numerous slaves to freedom.
In 1844, Harriet married John Tubman. Five years later, Harriet's young master, who was underage, died, and the rumor went about that the slaves from his plantation were to be sold. Harriet ran away, reached Philadelphia and found employment in a hotel. During the next two years, she returned to Maryland several times to bring her sister and two brothers and their families to freedom.
Before the Civil War, Tubman made about 19 trips to Maryland to guide an estimated 300 slaves to freedom. Her happiest triumph was undoubtedly her 1857 trip, when she spirited her aged parents out of Maryland to the safety of the North.
Not long after her own flight to freedom, Tubman moved to Canada, where she would be safe from slave catchers. On her various freedom jaunts back into Maryland, she guided numbers of slaves to the safety of Canada. Her co-conspirators on these freedom journeys were connected with the Underground Railroad, particularly the Quaker Thomas Garrett and the noted African- American leader William Still.
In his 1872 book, THE UNDERGROUND RAILROAD, Still said of her: "Harriet was a woman of no pretensions, indeed, a more ordinary specimen of humanity could hardly be found among the most unfortunate-looking farm hands of the South. Yet, in point of courage, shrewdness and disinterested exertions to rescue her fellow men, by making personal visits into Maryland among the slaves, she was without her equal."
It was in Canada, in 1858, that Tubman met the militant abolitionist John Brown, who gave her the name of "General Tubman." Shortly thereafter, she moved to a little farm near Auburn, N.Y., where she settled with her parents.
Although she could neither read nor write, Tubman became a popular abolitionist speaker. Her work became legendary, North and South, and she was so effective in spiriting slaves away that, at one point, the total of rewards offered for her capture was $40,000.
Although she was well aware that her capture would result in either a harsh re-enslavement or death, she expressed strong determination never to waver in her work. In her own words: "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; for no man should take me alive; I should fight for my liberty as long as my strength lasted, and when the time came for me to go, the Lord would let them take me."
During the Civil War, Tubman served as a spy and scout, often behind Confederate lines. She also worked as a cook, laundress and nurse helping the freedmen who had fled to the Union armies.
After the war, she returned to Auburn to care for her parents, orphans and helpless aged persons. She established the Harriet Tubman Home for Indigent Aged Negroes, and she also worked for the establishment of schools for the freed slaves in the South. She died in 1913.
Harriet Tubman was a woman born in the lowest status of society, without privileges or prospects for betterment. Her only role was meant to be that of a drudge for her exploiters, to increase their wealth and to make life more pleasant and luxurious for the oppressors of her people. As a woman, she was a member of that order that society has labeled "the weaker sex." With her passion for liberty, and with her inner strength, her intelligence and determination, Harriet Tubman overthrew all those false stereotypes of inferiority and proved to be by far the superior of her oppressors. She was not content with freedom for herself alone, but dedicated her life to achieving freedom and betterment for as many of her people as she could personally rescue and, on the larger plane, for all those who had been crushed by slavery. We pay tribute to a noble woman who would not and who could not be defeated.
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