I’ve been reading Harriet Tubman: The Road to Freedom by Catherine Clinton. It’s been an eye opening read. I grew up learning about Harriet Tubman and the role she played as a conductor of the Underground Railroad. I knew that because of her more than 300 slaves ran away from slavery and found freedom in northern states and Canada. I was 7 when Cicely Tyson played Harriet Tubman in the television movie “A Woman Called Moses.” I still have memories associated with watching that movie with my mother and family. Mommy made it a real event. She understood that it was the first time I’d watched a movie based on the true life of a black woman and she consciously worked to make it a special occasion.
Clinton’s book, however, is an historical account of the life of the woman known as Harriet Tubman. She uses historical documents including the journals, diaries, plantation inventories, and census reports to piecemeal the story of a heroine’s life. Clinton’s account makes it very apparent how little we actually know about this amazing woman. What was her motivation? How did she manage to steal away more than 300 people from slavery to freedom? How did she command so much respect that well renown men of the day declared her General and willing followed her into battle?
The more I read Clinton’s book the more I question how much folklore has been added to the story about the work of the woman called Moses. It is historical fact that she lived her life as a fugitive slave having run from her master in Maryland in her 20’s. It is also historical fact that she was an abductor on the Undergound Railroad, an intricate network that supported the escape of innumerable fugitive slaves. Clinton’s book gave me a glimpse of who Harriet Tubman was as a woman.
I began to identify with her the more I read. Before Harriet Tubman was for me a mythological heroine who slayed the savage beast of slavery. She went into the lion’s den and came out wearing the lion’s skin as a jacket. His eyes a shiny pendant on her lapel.
But now I know that she was once a girl in love. I know that it was her dedication to her family that drew her back into the lair of slavery again and again. I know that she was focused and intent to live her life’s mission, no matter the cost. I know now that it was her faith that carried her.
I once posted on social media
If Harriet Tubman could walk 90 miles for her freedom and return 19 times to free 300 more…why can’t you walk 30 minutes a day to improve your health and well-being.
When I think of the odds Harriet Tubman faced and how she continued to do the work she was called to do despite everything being stacked against her, I feel like a complete slacker.
I mean who am I to complain about having to go to work in the morning? Harriet Tubman hid entire families in swamps from slave catchers for days to help them escape to freedom.
Who am I to not ‘schedule’ time in to exercise for my health? Harriet Tubman walked 90 miles for her freedom. I mean 90 miles and I can’t find 30 minutes in a day.
She lead an entire troop of the Union Army into enemy territory and as a result 700 slaves were freed! But I can’t wrap my mind around making healthy meals 7 days a week for my family.
I’m a slacker. You’re a slacker. We’re all slackers.
Today I walked to the grocery store. It’s spring and it was a beautiful day and I wanted potato chips. So the deal I made with myself was I could have potato chips if I was woman enough to walk to the grocery store to buy the potato chips.
Harriet Tubman walked for freedom. I walked for potato chips.
I can’t even believe I wrote that. But it’s true. I walked for potato chips. There are women all over this country who don’t feel safe enough in their neighborhoods to walk around the corner. Hell there are women all over this country who live in communities without a grocery store in walking distance of their front door. But I have the luxury of feeling safe in my neighborhood and having my pick of grocery stores to walk to in order to select what kind of potato chips I’d like to eat.
I mean Harriet Tubman once knocked out her front teeth with the butt of her pistol while hiding away from slave catchers, because she was not going to allow the pain of a toothache deter her from her mission of getting her passengers to the Promised Land.
She knocked out her teeth.
With a pistol butt, she knocked out her own teeth.
And then she kept on walking.
I need a complete shift in my priorities. I am not facing the odds and dangers that Harriet Tubman faced. But there needs to be a sense of urgency in me about my health. I need Harriet Tubman focus and drive in action in my life.
Because if Harriet Tubman could walk 90 miles for her freedom and make that journey 19 more times to free 300 more, surely I can do what I must to be healthy for me. And perhaps in doing so pave the way for someone else.