From Wed Mar 27 07:30:07 2002
Date: Tue, 26 Mar 2002 20:34:24 -0600 (CST)
From: Marpessa Kupendua <>
Subject: !*Revolution is a Woman’s Work by Mumia Abu-Jamal
Article: 135464
To: undisclosed-recipients:;

Revolution is a woman’s work

By Mumia Abu-Jamal, Collected Writings, 18 March 2002

When one thinks of the word, ‘revolution’, it is utterly remarkable that so many are disturbed by the term, especially in a nation that claims its political lineage from a Revolution against the British Crown. Revolution only means a profound, fundamental change, and revolutionaries are but change agents.

For millions of men and women in early America, the Revolution of the 1770s meant very little, for it did not change their lives and the conditions of their work. Millions of these people were African captives, ‘strangers in a strange land’, as the saying goes, who saw the fighting, either near or far; but this much they knew: when the fighting began they were slaves, and when it was over, the chains of bondage remained. For those millions, most in the new nation’s Southland, this much-ballyhooed Revolution was but a passing fancy.

In the generation after the Revolution, among the enslaved millions was born a little girl, given the name Araminta, which became shortened into the easier said Minta or Minty.

But she would outgrow that name, and be called by her mother’s name as she grew into a youth; Harriet.

This would not be remarkable were it not for the name she took upon marriage to a free Negro: John Tubman, for history will long remember the woman who loved freedom above all else, Harriet Tubman.

Harriet loved her husband, but she would learn to love freedom more. For, though John was free in the eyes of the law, his mind wasn’t free. For what he had, he did not desire for her—freedom.

She talked about it incessantly with her husband, until he told her to shut up. Even her silence screamed freedom, until he finally shouted:

...You take off and I’ll tell the Master. I’ll tell the Master right quick.

She stared at him, shocked, thinking, he couldn’t, he wouldn’t ... You don’t mean that, she said slowly. M/p>

But he did mean it. She could tell by the way he looked at her.

[from Ann Perry’s Harriet Tubman: Conductor on the Underground Railroad. (New York: Harper Collins, (1955) 1983), pp. 85-6]

This extraordinary young woman would make her way from Tidewater, Maryland, up to Philadelphia, without John, and live in freedom.

But it wasn’t enough.

She knew others would love to be free, so she resolved to go back into slave territory, and spread the word about freedom. For those intrepid souls who were ready to go, she led them, through swamps, through forests, over cold, dark earth, to freedom.

When the Southern-dominated U.S. government passed the infamous Fugitive Slave Law of 1850 (which threatened the freedom of the escaped captives in the North with re-capture, and a return to bondage), Harriet Tubman resolved to push further, into the western provinces of Canada, present-day Ontario, to establish a place where the oppressed could breathe in freedom.

Her legend grew in the dark, around the slave quarters, and when the people sang or whispered about Moses, it was of her, not the patriarch of the Bible.

Nor was it remotely easy. Fear, exhaustion, broken nerves all rebelled against her tiny but powerful discipline, but she would not yield;

One of the runaways said, again, Let me go back. Let me go back, and stood still, and then turned around and said, over his shoulder, I am going back.

She lifted the gun, aimed it at the despairing slave. She said, Go on with us or die. The husky low-pitched voice was grim. [p. 141]

For her, for her charges, and for her people, there was only one way to go, forward. There was no turning back. She told each man or woman with her, We got to be free or die. And freedom’s not bought with dust.

The African-American secretary of the Philadelphia Vigilance Committee, William Still, kept detailed records of those who traveled on this secret Underground Railroad, and credits this mighty woman with bringing over 300 men, women and children up from slavery, to Pennsylvania, and later to Canada West.

Working with freedom-loving Quakers and Germans along the East Coast, who provided critical rest stops along the rough and arduous way, Harriet Tubman carved a hidden railroad, with her heart, her mind, her courage and her feet.

She was a revolutionary in every sense of the word, whose efforts led to Civil War, and a tremendous (albeit brief and betrayed) social transformation. How many tens of thousands of those scared slaves’ descendants (if not more) owe their very existence to her vision?

In a month dedicated to women, let her example not be forgotten.