APRIL 2004


[Col. Writ. 3/11/04] Copyright 2004 Mumia Abu-Jamal

    It has been 91 years since her passing from this vale of mortal tears.

    This week marks 91 years since the death of a woman who was, even during her life, a legend -- Harriet Tubman.

    Born near Tidewater, in bondage in Maryland, to Harriet and Ben Ross, she was named Araminta, which was shortened to her 'basket' name of Minta, or 'Minty', until she was about 6 years old, when she would be called, after her mother, Harriet.  When? 1820 ... or perhaps, 1821, for history books are unsure.

    What they are sure of is her strong determination to free herself, and her people, again, and again, and again -- against monstrous, deadly odds.

    Her name has survived into this new century, but who, among the young, knows what the 'Underground Railroad' was?

    Who knows that those people who formed it, and who used it, Black and White, were daily breaking the law, and faced serious consequences for doing so?  For Blacks, they risked violence, re-enslavement, and sometimes death; for whites, serious civil penalties, and sometimes jail.

    Thomas Garrett, a Delaware Quaker, believed in freedom, and he offered food and shelter to any runaway slave who could make it to his home in Wilmington, since 1822.  In Spring, 1843, Garrett, John Hunn, and another man were tried at the U.S. Court in New Castle, where Chief Justice Roger Taney (later of *Dred Scott* infamy) and Judge Hall were sitting.

    The fines and damages against him cost him every dollar he owned, and all of his household effects were sold at public auction.  The sheriff running the sale turned to him, saying, "Thomas, I hope you'll never be caught at this again."

    The then-60-year-old man replied, "Friend, I haven't a dollar in the world, but if thee knows a fugitive anywhere on the face of the earth who needs a breakfast, send him to me."

   Harriet Tubman was part of that network, and when she made her way to freedom in 1849, she walked the streets of Philadelphia, marveling at the number of "colored" people she saw, and how they spoke, and what nice clothes they wore.  In time, she learned they too, were fugitive slaves, like herself.  She resolved to do something about it.  This "Underground Railroad' had assisted her, fed her, and gave her shelter, when she walked from Dorchester County, Maryland, to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  She got herself a pistol, and she went back down.

    As this was now 1851, a year after the passage of the ugly Fugitive Slave Act, which made the whole country open to lave-raids and kidnappers, she resolved to go back down, to now carry her charges "clear off to Canada," for Tubman could not longer "trust my people with Uncle Sam..." (from Ella Forbes', *'But We Have No Country': The 1851 Christiana Pennsylvania Resistance*; Africana Homestead Legacy, 1998; pp. 114-15). 
And woe to the fool who, tired, scared, or indecisive, wanted to turn back.  Harriet would draw her pistol, aim it at the timid, and say simply, in her husky, low-pitched voice, "Go with us or die." They invariably chose life.  The fugitives could not afford anyone going back, she would later explain.  They would talk.  They would be *forced* to talk; and all would be lost.  She would say, "We got to go free or die.  And freedom's not bought with dust."

    She personally brought at least 300 souls, men, women and children, out of bondage.  She was a soldier, dedicated to the freedom of her people, with a $40,000 bounty on her head. In 1863, during the Civil War, she guided 300 Black soldiers in the Combahee River Raid, where millions of dollars worth of Southern property, dwellings, cotton and such were destroyed, and nearly 800 captives were freed. Said Tubman, "I never saw such a scene!  I laughed and laughed and laughed."

    What delighted her, what thrilled her, was the freedom of her people.  Let us *all* remember her,

Copyright 2004 Mumia Abu-Jamal

[Mr. Jamal's latest work, *Faith of our Fathers* (Africa World
Press) is available at fine/rad bookstores everywhere.]

[Sources: Butch Lee, *Jailbreak Out of History:
The Re-Biography of Harriet Tubman* (Stoopside
Books, 2000); Ann Petry, *Harriet Tubman:
Conductor On the Underground Railroad*
(HarperCollins, 1955/1983); (Forbes, cited).]

HARRIET TUBMAN Abolitionist 1821-1913
Harriet Tubman was born a slave in Dorchester County, Maryland and is known for having been the greatest conductor of the Underground Railroad. In 1848 she successfully escaped despite the threat from her husband to report her to their master. A compassionate and extraordinarily brave woman, Tubman returned to the South some 20 times over the next ten years and helped more than 300 slaves escape to their freedom. She caused such a stir that a bounty of $40,000 was placed on her head. As a participant during the Civil War, Tubman served the Union forces as a nurse, soldier, spy and scout (because of her successful routes with the Underground Railroad). Among her many honors, was a medal from Queen Victoria of England. Some 30 years after the Civil War, Tubman received a pension of $20/month for the rest of her life. She used the money to fund a place for the aged and needy. The house was later named in her honor, The Harriet Tubman Home. On this day in 1913, (MARCH 10TH)
the brave little lady called "Moses" of her people, died.