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    HARRIET TUBMAN
  --  Harriet--The Moses
  --  1821--March 10, 1913   Table of Contents     HARRIET TUBMAN
  --  (From the American Review, August, 1912)

Brown, Hallie Q.
Homespun heroines

- HARRIET TUBMAN

HARRIET TUBMAN


In 1441 Negro slaves were introduced into Portugal; in 1474, Seville, Spain, had Negroes in abundance and their welfare was the special care of the joint sovereigns. A letter is extant signed by Ferdinand and Isabella describing a certain Negro as of noble birth, investing him with the title of Mayoral of the Negroes and giving him credit for 'sufficed ability and good disposition." This proves that all African slaves were not debased savages, that under human treatment they displayed the better phases of human nature, that not innate depravity but inhuman depression tended to lower them into a submerged stratum of sordid existence.

The entrance of the African into what is now the United States is at once a tale of glory and of shame. His presence remains a monument to the cupidity of those who abrogated to themselves inherent superiority. His survival and steady numerical increase despite oppression strongly confirms the facts of his innate power of endurance

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and of his power of recuperation. Generations of slavery failed to blot out entirely all vestiges of manliness from this maltreated African and his descendants. The stories of thousands of self-emancipated slaves are recitals of deeds of daring, determination, and decision that favorably compare with the far-famel exploits of universally acknowledged heroes. Again and again men and women voluntarily exposed themselves to the miseries of stealthy journeys involving hunger, thirst and fatigue with perils by land and by water. Sustained by a burning desire to be free they risked discovery which meant virtual death by torture. Nor have the qualities which proved their manhood in days of bondage lessened in either force or character during the days of nominal freedom that have followed formal emancipation. Despite a pernicious "custom of the country," the contingent of American citizens of African descent is steadily forging ahead with a growing consciousness of both the duties and prerogatives attached to unshackled manhood. Our country's history is replete with instances of Negro patriotism. Unlike the Indian, the American Negro will continue to live. His future is inextricably bound up with the fate of the land where his loyalty has been repeatedly tested and never found wanting.

In the Negro are fundamental traits which have insured his practical salvation. Negro faith, fidelity, patience, patriotism, have passed into proverbs. Negro imagination, optimism, appreciation of the artistic sense of humor, are the occasional stars illumining the habitual gloom of surrounding mists of insensate race prejudice. Therefore there is a broader than individual application implied in the forceful tribute written many years ago by Miss Pauline Hopkins in honor of Harriet Tubman. Of this grand women she speaks with rare delicacy, accuracy and appreciation: "Harriet Tubman, though one of earth's lowliest ones, displayed an amount of heroism in her character rarely possessed by those of any station of life. Her

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name deserves to be handed down to posterity side by side with those of Grace Darling, Joan of Arc, and Florence Nightingale; no one of them has showed more courage and power of endurance in facing danger and death to relieve human suffering than did this woman in her successful and heroic endeavors to reach and to save all whom she might of her oppressed people."

Harriet was born a slave; at the immature age of six years hired out by a cruel master and mistress who surpassed him in fiendish ingenuity, she had literally no childhood. In her early teens she was put to work in the fields. There she followed the oxen, loaded and carried wood, for the work of a full grown man was expected of her. The hard work she performed and the heavy burdens she carried developed her physically until her feats of strength and muscular agility made her a wonder. Yet she suffered under the strokes of the lash as if she were one of the least willing or efficient. Till the day of her death her scarred shoulders and bruised back bore mute though eloquent testimony to the inhumanity of the customary plantation discipline. A blow on the head with a weight from the scales inflicted permanent injury. She had in consequence irregular fits of apparent insensibility. Her lucid moments were nevertheless frequent enough and lasted long enough for her to do some thinking and to the purpose. She at last decided she could no longer exist in the miasmatic atmosphere of thraldom; the prospect of being sold brought the matter to a crisis. Late one afternoon she set off singing, but with painful step and slow. Though her body was weak from deprivation, her spirit was brave and steadfast. She thought "there's two things I've got a right to--'Death or Liberty'--one or t'other I mean to have." That such a woman inspired by such a resolve should succeed is more a matter of admiration than of astonishment; that such a woman could be satisfied to become free while so many dear to her were still in bondage would have been indeed a surprise. A person of her

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broad sympathies could find permanent happiness only in concentrating her energies outside and beyond herself upon finding there was now but little comparatively speaking to call for strenuous action on her own behalf. Not only did this intrepid woman essay but she succeeded in leading ten of her immediate family and many friends to attain the boon she had so assiduously sought. Nineteen times she essayed the hazardous journeys covering and recovering the trackless waste stretching between the desert of bondage and the promising fields of freedom. She began this crucial traverse of a "via dolorosa" in her prime and continued it through her mature years until the need for such sacrifice no longer existed. Not once did she fail in her attempts to discharge what she considered her duty; during the interim she was never one hour free from the handicap of broken health. A reward of forty thousand dollars was at one time offered for the head of this woman whose only crime was that she loved liberty more than life. She traveled where posters advertising her were read by others in her hearing--"being unable to read herself, she went on trusting in the Lord." By her people she was known as "Moses" and they too believed: "De Lord he gave Moses the power." In underground circles she was called "Moll Pitcher" because of her energy and determination.

The struggles of the pioneer mothers of this great republic supply themes for many an absorbing romance, many a glowing verse of poetry; the equally unique tales of the self-abnegation of the black woman of the South are largely as yet traditional. Some day they will be enshrined in permanent form and the world will learn in detail what they effected by their exercise of indomitable will, enduring fidelity and unsullied faith. In no other way can the meed of simple justice be accorded a host of noble souls of whom Harriet Tubman was a distinguished representative.

When in the march of affairs Harriet found no further need for continuing her mission of mercy she transferred

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her activities from her people to her country. During the earlier stages of the Civil War, "Moses" hung upon the skirts of the Union Army, helping the "contrabands" who sought refuge within its lines. When the freedmen became soldiers she went from camp to camp nursing the sick and succoring the wounded. To the ordinary pursuits she added another, one none the less important because carried on in secret; she became virtually a volunteer spy and penetrating the lines of the enemy, gained valuable information as to the strength of armies and batteries. Illiterate as she was her mental alertness and spiritual development were extraordinary. Shrewed, loyal, God fearing, "Moses" was in her glory while she still found she could be of service. To do for others was more than a principle with her, it was a passion.

In personal appearance Harriet was ordinary almost to repulsiveness; at most times she had a half vacant stare, and rarely when quiet seemed more than half awake. Yet her lack of education did not prevent the most cultured persons from listening absorbed to her strange eventful tales, told with the pathos and simplicity that bore conviction with their recital. She knew all the leaders in the abolition movement and had in her possession letters sent to her by patriots like Gov. Andrews of Massachusetts, William H. Seward, and other prominent persons. At Concord, a welcome was always in waiting for her, for Lowell, Emerson, Alcott, and Mrs. Horace Mann all respected, admired and placed implicit confidence in and reliance upon her truthfulness. She was practically purely true African, but her patience, foresight, devotion and sagacity put her apart and above the rank and file of those who have passed meritorious careers under ordinary conditions, and elevated her to that high citizenship in the realm of genius where race nor sex, extraneous circumstances nor color are given even passing consideration.

When the "cruel war" was over, on the way to a northern home with a soul overflowing with rejoicing, an unfeeling

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conductor forcibly ejected her from a car. From the injury resulting she was a life long victim.

Through the good offices of Hon. William H. Seward, Harriet was enabled to procure a tract of land in Auburn, N. Y. Upon this she built a cabin and there placed her parents whom she had rescued during her last journey south. She also erected a home for aged and indigent colored people upon the same tract. Compelled later to relinquish the charge of this, she surrendered all her interest in the same to a religious organization. Constantly soliciting from others for others, for a long time she helped to support two schools for freedmen.

At length the combined disabilities of permanent ill health and advancing age overcame her and she was found to be in an enfeebled, destitute condition. A philanthropic woman, Mrs. Sarah H. Bradford of Geneva, wrote her story; a generous citizen of Auburn gave it to the world, having had it published by subscription, so that the gross receipts could be devoted to her needs, and the Empire State Federation sent its president, Mrs. Mary B. Talbert of Buffalo to pay her an official visit. From thenceforth the comfort of this veteran was assured. The thoughtful ministration of the Federation did not cease with her life, but continued until her final resting place was fittingly marked with a simple, but appropriate shaft of stone. Harriet deeply appreciated the practical sympathy of those good women, her sisters by ties of lineage and race extraction. The last message she sent was this: "Tell the women to stick together. God is fighting for them and all will be well!"

Upon her decease the city of Auburn erected a tablet to her memory. This adorns one of the public buildings and upon it is inscribed the outlines of the life story of this woman whose charity was unbounded, whose wisdom, integrity, and patriotism enabled her to perform wonders in the cause of freedom.

"Harriet Tubman" uplift and betterment clubs are

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maintained by our women in Boston, Philadelphia and Greater New York. These are devoted to the laudable intention of keeping alive the influence of her perservering endeavor to incite to noble action, the friends of liberty, humanity and justice.
    HARRIET TUBMAN
  --  Harriet--The Moses
  --  1821--March 10, 1913   Table of Contents     HARRIET TUBMAN
  --  (From the American Review, August, 1912)