Saturday, March 10, 2007

Harriet "Never lost a passenger" Tubman, died March 10, 1913

Harriet Tubman was known as "Moses of Her People." In 1849, Harriet's owner was facing mounting debt that belonged to her dead husband, and she decided to sell some of her slaves. Harriet feared being sold into the South, and she fled. Harriet's own husband was free, but he did not want to come, so she had to leave him. Two of her brothers went with her, but later decided to turn back. And so, Harriet continued alone on the Underground Railroad, helped to freedom by both Blacks and Whites.

Harriet herself later became a part of the Railroad, guiding escaping slaves to freedom. She rescued dozens of slaves, was never caught, and in fact threatened to shoot anyone who turned back. No one ever did.

"Her success was wonderful. Time and again she made successful visits to Maryland on the Underground Rail Road, and would be absent for weeks at a time, running daily risks while making preparations for herself and her passengers. Great fears were entertained for her safety, but she seemed wholly devoid of personal fear. The idea of being captured by slave-hunters or slave-holders, seemed never to enter her mind. She was apparently proof against all adversaries. While she thus maintained utter personal indifference, she was much more watchful with regard to those she was piloting. Half of her time, she had the appearance of one asleep, and would actually sit down by the road-side and go fast asleep* when on her errands of mercy through the South, yet, she would not suffer one of her party to whimper once, about "giving out and going back," however wearied they might be by the hard travel day and night. She had a very short and pointed rule or law of her own, which implied death to any who talked of giving out and going back. Thus, in an emergency she would give all to understand that "times were very critical and therefore no foolishness would be indulged in on the road." That several who were rather weak-kneed and faint-hearted were greatly invigorated by Harriet's blunt and positive manner and threat of extreme measures, there could be no doubt."
William Still, author of The Underground Railroad

Additionally, Harriet played a significant role in the Raid at Combahee Creek, an action which freed several hundred slaves during the American Civil War. The Episcopal Church commemorates her life on July 20, along with the lives of Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Amelia Jenks Bloomer, and Sojourner Truth.

Why would a slave ever want to turn back? If captured, they could probably expect a worse fate than if they turned themselves in and begged for mercy, but that's only part of it. When people are abused over the long term, they come to accept their oppression as natural and just - they internalize their oppression. There were women who fought against the Equal Rights Amendment. Back home in Singapore, there are Chinese Christians who bristle at the notion that Jesus was not White.

God sent Harriet Tubman to free her people's bodies from slavery. Her task is not complete - you can free the body, but the mind still has to deal with internalized oppression. Often, we deal with that by taking those internalized patterns of oppression, and using them on others. These days, many African-American Christians have joined campaigns to deny rights to the LGBT community. I heard that one Michigan pastor said that he'd even join with the Ku Klux Klan against homosexuals.

That's what a soul still in bondage sounds like, and it's frightening. But, God sent us Harriet. You can bet that She has sent us other prophets to work on our minds and souls as well as our bodies. Stay tuned.

From the Episcopal calendar of lesser feasts and fasts:
"O God, whose Spirit guides us into all truth and makes us free: Strengthen and sustain us as you did your servants Elizabeth, Amelia, Sojourner, and Harriet. Give us vision and courage to stand against oppression and injustice and all that works against the glorious liberty to which you call all your children; through Jesus Christ our Savior, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen."

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