Harriet Tubman, born Araminta Ross, escaped from slavery in 1849. She could have stayed away from Maryland, the place of her violent bondage. She could have found a new life of freedom and never turned back. “When I found I had crossed that line," she later told a biographer, "I looked at my hands to see if I was the same person. There was such a glory over everything; the sun came like gold through the trees, and over the fields, and I felt like I was in Heaven.” But she went back, again and again, to rescue others, returning perhaps 13 times in all. “My father, my mother, my brothers and sisters and friends were there,” she said. “I was free, and they should be free.”
The bravery of this tough and tiny woman, said to be no more than five feet tall, is indisputable. But it’s her devotion to the welfare of others, at such extraordinary risk to her own chances of survival, that touches me most. Hear how Frederick Douglass summarized the difference between her and him in a letter for the 1868 biography, Scenes in the Life of Harriet Tubman: “I have had the applause of the crowd and the satisfaction that comes of being approved by the multitude, while the most that you have done has been witnessed by a few trembling, scarred, and foot-sore bondmen and women, whom you have led out of the house of bondage, and whose heartfelt ‘God bless you’ has been your only reward.”
I’ve chosen to focus here on this singular historical figure—expected to finally be seen on the twenty dollar bill in 2030—but I could have featured my daughters, whose evolution as thoughtful and compassionate people continues to inspire me. But what about you? Who inspires you? And why? I look forward to reading your responses, just as I know many others here will also value hearing from each other.
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Photo: Harriet Tubman in 1911 via Getty Images.
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