Copyright 1998, 1999 , 2000 ASET, M. Mbulu All rights to everything on this web site are reserved.

Title of Course: Profiles In Black Mba Mbulu, Instructor

Textbook: None. Selected writings found online will constitute the textbook.

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Read the following information on Harriet Tubman. Relate the information to the following questions to the best of your ability. Also, read Mba's Note.

(1) Harriet Tubman could neither read nor write, and never attended school. Did that make her any less intelligent?

(2) The essay describes Harriet as a rebellious child. Was she rebellious, or was she refusing to submit to inequality?

(3) Do you think the fact that Harriet had to take on serious responsibilities at an early age helped prepare her for the work she was to become famous for?

(4) Should Black parents, as a rule, expose Black children at an early age to the reality of racism and prepare them to combat it?

(5) What did Harriet discover as soon as she crossed the line and became a free woman, and what was her response?

(6) Harriet was buried with military rites. Why do you think that fact was that included in this profile of her?


Class #7: HARRIET TUBMAN (1821?-1913)

Rebel, Spy, Nurse, Military Strategist, Guerilla Warrior, Conductor of Underground Railroad, Freedom Fighter

Harriet Tubman-- said to be the "Moses" of her people-- was born and lived the life of a slave for over 20 years. Born around 1821 near Cambridge, Maryland, she was never really a child. At the age of 5 she was cleaning white people's houses full time and tending white people's babies at night. If she fell asleep, she was whipped mercilessly.

Harriet was a rebellious child. By the time she reached her teens, her master, recognizing that he could not make her a house servant, put her in the fields, where she plowed, drove oxen and cut wood. On one occasion a male slave left his post and went to town. The slave was closely followed by the overseer, who was closely followed by Harriet. The overseer cornered the slave and called on Harriet for help, but Harriet went to the aid of the slave. When the slave dashed through the door, Harriet stepped between him and the overseer. The enraged overseer picked up a two pound weight and flung it at the slave. It struck Harriet instead, tearing a hole in her skull.

For several weeks Harriet hovered between life and death. Later it was discovered that the blow had pushed a portion of her skull against her brain. Forever after, she suffered a "sleeping sickness." Four or five times a day, she would suddenly fall asleep. After a short spell, she would regain consciousness and continue what she had been doing at the precise point where she had left off.

Later, Harriet learned that her master was planning to sell her and her brother. She began to seriously consider escaping. The idea struck such deep roots in her mind that she dreamed repeatedly of a "line" which she could cross to freedom and human dignity. Harriet tried to persuade her brothers to accompany her, but they refused. So she set out alone in the summer of 1849, travelling at night. She said, "I had reasoned this out in my mind; there was one of two things I had a right to, liberty or death; if I could not have one I would have the other, for no man should take me alive."

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When she crossed the "line" between slavery and freedom, Harriet was overwhelmed by a sense of fulfillment. "I looked at my hands," she said, "to see if I was the same person now that I was free." She realized suddenly with startling clarity that she could never be free until her people were free, and dedicated herself to work unceasingly for the complete emancipation of her people. In Philadelphia and other northern cities, she worked day and night as a domestic. When she had saved up enough money to finance a slave escape, she would return to the south and lead a group of slaves to freedom. Nineteen times she did this, guiding some 300 slaves against a system that specialized in capturing runaway slaves, and she never lost one.

Harriet Tubman could neither read nor write, but she possessed a tactical ability approaching genius. After she had assembled some slaves, General Tubman, as she was called, placed the group under strict military discipline. Once a slave committed himself to a Tubman escape, he was committed to freedom or death. As a result of her work, Harriet became a heroine of the abolitionist crusade, and began to appear on platforms as an anti-slavery advocate.

The constant agitation of the Underground Railroad was a major factor in bringing about the Civil War. During the first phase of the War, Harriet continued her guerilla strikes, leading slaves to federal lines in Maryland and other states. Even more important, perhaps, was her work as a Union spy, scout and commando. At the request of Union officers, Harriet organized an intelligence service that was largely composed of former slaves from surrounding areas.

At the war's end, Harriet returned to her home in Auburn, NY, and began a 37 year effort to get government compensation for her three years of war service. She wanted the money not for herself but to found schools and rest homes for the former slaves and their children. Although high ranking officers and officials furnished depositions and affidavits on her behalf, the federal government never paid her.

Harriet was 93 years old when she died. She conducted her own farewell service and was buried with military rites.

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The Greatest

If conditions had permitted, it is possible that Harriet Tubman would have been to Blacks in the United States what Toussaint L'Ouverture was to the Blacks in San Domingo, or what Queen Nzingha was to Blacks in Ndongo. That is because, more than anything else, Harriet Tubman was a doer. Compared to the Black leaders who emerged after the Civil War, Harriet stands head and shoulders above all of them. She was as intelligent as DuBois, but fearless. She was as dynamic as Garvey, but methodical and un-impulsive. She was as intense as Malcolm, but in a grander arena. Yes, Harriet was head and shoulders above all of them. She was Gabriel Prosser, Denmark Vesey and Nat Turner. She was also David Walker, but her instrument was much greater than a pen. When John Brown planned to attack Harper's Ferry, Frederick Douglass choked out an excuse but Harriet said "I'll be there." That's because Harriet recognized the supremacy of action, the bold stroke, military strategy and field operations. Harriet had the intelligence, an intuitive understanding of what needed to be done, and the ability to translate words into action that separated her from the rest. With the names of Toussaint and Nzingha must be added the name of Harriet Tubman.

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