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Editor’s Note: This is a part of a collection of stories SDNN will publish throughout the month of March to celebrate Women’s History Month. Join us as we recognize Women’s History Month by sending in your stories too and checking SDNN every day for stories from other women in our region. Happy Women’s History Month!
Many Americans look to scripture in the Good Book for guidance on what is right and just. They see the Bible as the ultimate truth in what is relevant in life.
I see truth as relative. It’s relative to life experiences, context of circumstances and our placement in history. Some of us are lucky enough to have our story recorded. For most, it’s a matter of realizing the importance of our story. What is true for one may not be true for another, because of what we value. Our personal stories are our own Good Books.
I look for guidance in the stories of those I admire. I find power in personal truths and see individual lives as chapters of instruction. Some are more enlightened reads, this is certain, but in my view each of us have opportunities to scribe a better story for ourselves and we can learn from each other.
The ancient Biblical Moses freed Israelites from slavery in Egypt to freedom in Israel. The Bible of my life has an illiterate black Moses from a century ago. The Moses I look to was a slave herself when she escaped then returned to free hundreds of other slaves from the Southern U.S. to freedom in the North. I speak of Harriet Tubman, one of the most famed black women in the U.S., who was dubbed Moses by black slaves and white Quakers. Over ten years, in nearly 20 life-threatening trips she transported the unfree to freedom as conductor of the Underground Railroad, a system of safe houses and tested routes from the Deep South to Canada. In all that time, she never lost a “passenger” nor was she ever caught.
Tubman’s long and embattled life began in Maryland as the offspring of slaves. She endured repeated starvations and beatings; she toiled for years before escaping and was nearly fatally wounded in a legendary story of her refusal to intervene when a fellow slave attempted escape. Her master at the time threw a 2-pound weight at the man, and hit Harriet, the girl of about 12, instead. It reportedly cracked her skull and resulted in chronic headaches with narcoleptic seizures that plagued her the rest of her days.
Tubman’s perseverance is one thing. She gave up a marriage to be free; her free husband didn’t see the point in rocking the boat. What’s most striking is that she served her ideals of freedom long after the last slave was safely delivered North. Historic accounts often overshadow the numerous feats she accomplished, by focusing on her Moses label instead.
Yes, she appeared fearless. Her rifle was loaded and her aim was accurate. She would let no one curtail her mission to save the unsaved. She knew the bounty on her head and the risks she took. To her, there was no choice but to heed the call of freedom and replicate the gift of it to others. Yet, she did so much more.
Tubman became a landowner, and during the Civil War she was a nurse, scout and spy. Tubman became so respected and trusted, that she was given unprecedented access to military roles and became the first woman in U.S. history to lead an armed raid of soldiers. Her leadership was rewarded as her troupes freed 700 slaves. She later nursed severely wounded and diseased soldiers back to life after the war.
She was a proficient orator and became a Suffragist speaker in support of equal rights for all women, and attended both white and black suffrage conventions. She purchased more land and established a home and hospital for indigent, sick and elderly African Americans.
To her last day, she spoke of making a difference and remained true to her ideals of perfect justice being the freedom to determine your own life. She once said, “Every great dream begins with a dreamer. Always remember, you have within you the strength, the patience, and the passion to reach for the stars to change the world.” She began by following the North Star, and today she has rightly become a star.
She began to light my path when I learned of her debilitating headaches and injuries from many beatings. The product of extreme abuse myself, and a victim to life-long crushing migraines, when I feel I can’t go on I remind myself that Harriet Tubman did so much more than I have yet to dream of. I tell myself, if Tubman could be a miracle, I can certainly achieve the comparably mundane. Instead of What-Would-Jesus-Do, I ask myself, What-Would-Harriet-Do.
I improve my vision of the world by looking at it through other people’s eyes. I am inspired by people who have every right to be bitter yet choose to create change and take action instead of lying dormant.
We can’t be sure, but most historians believe Tubman was born in 1820 or 1821. We do know that she lived an amazingly resilient life until March 10, 1913.
Wednesday marks the anniversary of her passing, and although I couldn’t find any local celebrations of her life, her hometown county of Dorchester, Maryland is having their Annual Harriet Tubman Banquet at the Harriet Tubman Museum on March 13. By the time this is posted, Maryland will have celebrated the 10th Annual State of Maryland Harriet Ross Tubman Day of Remembrance. And finally, this week several artifacts relating to her life will be presented to the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture.
Tubman is known for her wise words and strong deeds. She was noted as saying, “I had reasoned this out in my mind, 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.” I am grateful she found liberty before death, and I take strength in her teaching that we can liberate ourselves…free of constraints, free of our circumstances and free to take flight with our grandest dreams.
Tryce Czyczynska is the co-founder of 51%: A Women’s Place Is In Politics and host of “Coffee & Conversation with Cool Women.” She is an SDNN contributor. Follow her on Twitter.