Mar. 1822 – Mar. 10, 1913
by Sister Kim Switzer
Harriet Tubman knew how to follow her Will. She understood that it wasn’t easy, it wasn’t always pretty, it was never a sure thing. But she also understood that it was absolutely essential if she was going to live the life she knew was right and help others live it, too. Her Will told her that everyone must be free, and she followed that message no matter the cost to herself.
She was born and raised a slave, and she was a woman in a time when both of those things meant, to most people, that she had no power over her own life or over anything at all. And yet, she freed herself and then she went on to free hundreds of others, following her Will to create the kind of world she knew was right even at great peril to herself.
Harriet Tubman had dreams of freedom long before she gained it for herself. She learned that she should have legally been born free, but no lawyer would take on her case so she remained a slave. Then she married a free man of color, but there was no freedom to be had there, and he even threatened to sell her. Finally, she took her fate into her own hands, left her husband, and escaped to freedom on her own.
She was free, but that wasn’t enough for her. She returned to the South and freed her sister and her sister’s family, and later three of her brothers and both of her parents. And then she returned again and again, risking her freedom and her life to free more than 300 slaves. She bought land with money she earned herself to provide places for freed slaves to live. And when Philadelphia was no longer safe for escaped slaves, she started leading them all the way into Canada.
This was not yet enough. She knew that the only right thing was for all people to be free. She became a public orator even though this greatly increased her risk of being recaptured and enslaved again. She went South during the Civil War to work with the escaped slaves who were attached to the Union Army. She organized a network of scouts and spies among the black men of the area for the Union Army and led several missions herself to gather information. She also led troops to destroy bridges and railroads to disrupt the Confederate’s supply lines.
And still this was not enough. After the Civil War, Harriet Tubman helped establish schools for freedmen in the South. She and her second husband raised several young children as their own, and she provided shelter and support to elderly, impoverished former slaves. She worked with Susan B. Anthony and the women’s suffrage movement. She continued her public speaking career and helped with the writing of two books about her life to earn money for her own keep as well as to continue caring for others. And late in life she opened a home for aging and indigent people of color. Her whole life was dedicated to freeing her people and to making sure that they could live in the freedom they gained.
Harriet Tubman is a shining example of someone following their Will, of knowing that it is a hard path to take and doing it anyhow. She reminds us that there is something greater than our own desires of the moment, that there is a greater path to seek and follow. She is a true hero.