Tuesday, February 25, 2014
Black History Month
by Arline Chase
Epic Award Finalist
After escaping to freedom herself, Harriet Tubman led more than 300 other slaves to freedom. She spied for the Union Army during the Civil War. The above is a fictionalized biography, based on her published interviews with her biographer, and on other original source records.
Question from the e-mail: Black History Month is almost over. What are your favorite Black History stories?
Answer: Anything about Harriet Tubman, no question! Including my own book, above. Harriet didn't start out to be a heroine and rescue hundreds of people, you know. She just wanted to help her family and one thing led to another.
Harriet wanted to be free and saved her money to buy her freedom as she had been taught in church that running away was "stealing." Then her husband, a free man, got drunk and gambled away her hard-earned "freedom money."
When confronted, her husband said "the old man" had left her freedom in his will, but she hadn't had sense enough to leave. In those days, if offered freedom, many slaves chose to continue with the life they knew. Harriet went to Cambridge Court House (yes, same town where I'm living) and paid someone her last $5 to read her the will. If her mother had left with her children, they would have been free. But no one had told them.
Shortly thereafter, Harriet took off for Philadelphia. That was far enough, then, as no Fugitive Slave Law had yet been passed. Still, she missed her family and "sent word" home often.
When Harriet heard one of her brothers was in trouble with his owner and might be "sold south." she went back to help him get away. He was not the only one waiting for her signal, a song "Go Down Moses,"sung from within the forest, so no one could tell that they had seen her.
Harriet went back home many times to help people get away. Slave owners posted rewards for her capture, all together they offered $10,000 dead or alive.
If you read the book, The Underground Railroad, by William B. Still, take note of how often a conductor named Moses is mentioned. All the conductors had code names, of course. Their identities were a closely guarded secret. It is interesting to read how often she went forth, and how many of her passengers (some in almost every party) were named Ross. For Harriet's Family name was Ross. Her married name was Tubman.
Eventually, Harriet got both her parents to safety when they were in their 80's and unable to walk more than a hundred yards. She “borrowed” a horse and wagon and got them aboard a train in Georgetown, Delaware, with falsified papers. They were terrified, neither having ridden a train before. William B. Still of The Philadelphia Abolitionist Society met them and cared for them until Harriet could walk to Philadelphia and get them on to Canada. Dauntless was the word for Harriet Tubman.
Later, after the war began, Harriet served as a nurse in field hospitals, caring for wounded Union soldiers and their Confederate captives alike. She started passing along information that she heard to officers, and they, in turn, began to ask her go and find out things.
Finding out sometimes required a walk behind Confederate lines to gather information, but Harriet never hesitated. When she saw the plight of displaced slaves who had been abandoned by owners to fend for themselves and who fled from the fighting, she got the Army to set up camps where they could stay until the government could help them find new homes.
Together with another Write Words, Inc. author, Helen Chappell, I attended the service at Christ Episcopal Church when Harriet Tubman was named a saint by the Episcopal Church. Seated within the sanctuary were the descendants of the people who had considered Harriet and her brothers and sisters "property," and posted a price on her head. The members of St. Stephens Church were honored guests, and a choir made up of descendants of slaves sang Harriet's “code” song, “Go Down, Moses.”
Everyone there had come to honor Harriet's memory. We shivered as the music and the thoughts of her deeds touched all of us.