Many years ago, in a faraway land- called Maryland- a girl ‘Minty’ was born to enslaved parents. Three of her sisters were sold to distant farms causing a serious distress in her family. When a merchant approached her father to buy her brother, he resisted resulting in serious violence. But this incident had a great impact on Minty’s life as she learned to resist when being wronged.
Minty refused and resisted and thus endured physical violence causing several permanent physical injuries. Due to severe head wound she suffered when hit by a heavy metal weight, she endured severe headaches, disabling epileptic seizures, powerful visions and intense dream experiences all her life- which she thought were messages from her God. She saw them as divine premonitions which guided her throughout her life.
By 1849, Minty was a young woman and craved for freedom. She decided to run away with her two brothers. Realizing the consequences of being runaway slaves, her two brothers decided to return. Minty had no plans to remain in bondage and was courageous enough to deal with any consequences. Hence, she escaped alone with the help of the Underground Railroad- an informal network of secret routes and friendly houses used by slaves to escape to free states with the help of abolitionists and allies. She traveled nearly 90 miles by foot. During the day, she either hid in the woods or pretended to work for families of friendly houses. She traveled in night for weeks guided by the North Star. Traveling during the night was also not safe as there was a danger of being caught by ‘slave catchers’ and their ‘dogs’ who caught fugitives to collect rewards. With great courage and determination, Minty crossed into the border of free state of Pennsylvania, becoming a free woman.
Within a year of running away from Maryland, she made a secret trip back home to rescue her niece and her two children who were held for sale. Minty, with the help of others, rescued her niece and two children and brought the family to Philadelphia through the secret routes that she knew of. The trip made her more confident and determined to help others.
Around this time, the US Congress had passed the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850 that forced law enforcement officials to assist in the capture of slaves, even in those states that had outlawed slavery. Hence, escaping slavery had become even more difficult and dangerous.
But Minty was not the kind of person who was scared of danger. She was determined to rescue others living in slavery. She made several secret trips and rescued hundreds of slaves. Minty’s work was dangerous. To minimize the likelihood of being caught, she worked during winter months when the nights were cold, long and dark. For her efforts and leadership, she earned the nickname “Moses”.
Minty had an excellent knowledge of support networks and resources and aware of many hiding places. Hence, she was approached by high-profile underground abolitionists as well. As the new Fugitive Slave Law stated that escaped slaves could also be captured in the free states and returned to slavery, that led the abduction of many former slaves living in free states. Hence, Minty started her mission to take the slaves to Canada that did not have any such law.
Several bounties or rewards were offered for Minty’s capture- some suggesting the combined rewards being $40,000- a huge amount by any standard. Yet, despite best efforts made by several bounty catchers, Minty and her fugitives were never captured.
By 1861, Civil War had started in USA. Minty worked for the Union Army and became an armed scout and spy. She was the first woman to lead an armed expedition during the war. She raided and liberated thousands of salves in the South. She was well-known in the Union Army for her recruiting efforts, as most of the newly liberated men went on to join the Union Army during the war.
Despite her bravery during the war and years of government service, she never received a regular salary and denied compensation due to unequal payments offered to black soldiers. She did not even receive pension for her service in the Civil War for many years. Despite her fame and popularity, she was always in a state of constant poverty though she continued her humanitarian effort and gave whatever she could to newly freed slaves.
She died in 1913.
Today, you know Minty as Harriet Tubman.
Last week, US Treasury Department announced that Harriet Tubman will now replace Andrew Jackson on the center of a new $20 bill. Irony is Andrew Jackson, a controversial President of the United States, is known for keeping slaves and played a key role in removing Native Americans from their land. The whole notion that he will now be replaced by a woman who devoted her life to racial equality and women’s rights, is empowering and deserve both praise and celebration.
Way to go Minty!
You will continue inspiring millions of future generations to fight for injustice.
Read more about Minty’s Escape Strategies here.
Famous Quotes from Harriet Tubman: