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100 Years Ago

Black History
Civil War
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Harriet Tubman
African-American Abolitionist (1820-1913)

Born Araminta Green, a slave in Maryland, Tubman escaped from bondage in 1849, and went on to adult notoriety as the Underground Railroad’s preeminent conductor. In her sixth year, young Harriet was removed from her family to work for a neighbor, and by the age of ten she had served a number of masters who scarred her body with numerous whippings. While still ten years old, Harriet was present when a runaway slave was caught while making his escape. She refused to tie the slave up and the slave successfully escaped. As punishment, she was hit in the head with a heavy stone. The blow took several months to recover from and it caused her to suffer severe headaches for the rest of her life.

harrietttubmanwithgroupofslavesseekingfreedom.gif (16789 bytes)

Harriet Tubman (at left) with some of her charges. 
Photo from the Bettman Archive, Inc.

When Harriet became aware of the infamous railroad, she recognized the hope that it held out to all slaves. 1844 brought a marriage union to John Tubman, a free slave, who respected Harriet’s wishes for freedom, but did not wish to endanger their relationship, and lives, by conveying her to freedom as a fugitive on the Railroad. (The marriage of a slave to a free man did not make the slave free). After being removed from her husband and being sold to a slave trader in 1849, she planned and executed an escape that took her via the Railroad to Pennsylvania where she joined, in December, 1850, the valiant men and women who served as Underground Railroad conductors.

Putting her personal freedom and life in jeopardy she returned to the South on 19 occasions to rescue and conduct fugitives to northern states and liberty. She was tough and determined, and allowed no dropping out or returning to the South. With black kidnappings in the North increasing and fugitive slaves facing increased scrutiny, she led 11 trips to Canada. On one such occasion, a despondent fugitive was prepared to surrender, however, Harriet, with other plans, drew a pistol and ordered him to "Move or die." The entire party reached Canada safely.

Hundreds of former slaves, who called her "Moses," secured their freedom with Harriet’s assistance and courage. After guiding more than 300 slaves to safety, Southern slave owners offered a bounty of $40,000 for her capture. She lived to share the stage, as a guest speaker, with the likes of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony in the quest for women’s suffrage, and control of property and wages.

After giving unselfishly to others for most of her adult life, she spent her last few years in poverty; dying at the age of 93 in Auburn, New York, on March 10, 1913.

'Black History' segment written in June, 1998 by David Lodge


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