On this the second Sunday of Black History Month, let us focus on a woman who was a true hero in the African American struggle for freedom.
Harriet Tubman was born into slavery on a Maryland plantation in 1822. Her owners forced her to work driving oxen, trapping muskrats in the woods, and as a nursemaid for her master’s children. Harriet’s owners frequently whipped her. And she endured the pain of seeing three of her sisters sold. She would never see them again. But when her owner tried to sell one of her brothers, Harriet’s mother openly rebelled. The would-be buyer gave up after Harriet’s mother told him, “The first man that comes into my house, I will split his head open.” Her mother’s actions likely implanted in Harriet the idea that resistance to evil was correct—and could sometimes be successful. As a child, Harriet herself would run away for days at a time. But there were rays of joy in her life, as well. Harriet’s mother told her stories from the Bible, which developed in her a deep and abiding faith in God. When Harriet was about 26 years old, she learned of plans to sell her away from her family.
The time had come to try to escape. Harriet made her way some ninety miles along the Underground Railroad. She traveled at night to avoid slave catchers, following the North Star, until she reached Pennsylvania and freedom. Once there, she dared to make a dangerous decision: she risked her freedom to give others theirs. For eight years, she led scores of enslaved people north to independence. During these trips, she relied upon God to guide and protect her. She never once lost a runaway slave. As Harriet, herself later put it, “I never ran my train off the track, and I never lost a passenger.”
Harriet gave all the credit to God, explaining,” ‘Twant me, ’twas the Lord. I always told him, ‘I trust you. I don’t know where to go or what to do, but I expect you to lead me,’ and he always did.” Her faith deeply impressed others. As abolitionist Thomas Garrett put it, “I never met with any person of any color who had more confidence in the voice of God, as spoken directly to her soul.”