An unsung hero

Starting your first job at the age of five, withstanding racism throughout the entirety of life and being treated as nothing more than property, yet finding a way to overcome the misery by helping those with a similar past escape their horrifying circumstances by running an undercover operation during your country’s civil war. That’s a lot to take in, but I don’t apologize. 

What seems to be a great plot to a movie turns out to be a summary of one of the most influential figures in African-American history. This is the history of the woman whose face will be printed on 20-dollar bills in honor of women’s suffrage. This is the legacy of Harriet Tubman.

The first thing that comes to mind when I think of Harriet Tubman is the Underground Railroad. It’s what the history books in middle school always told us during the chapters on the Civil War. But did you know that her first heroic attempt to free a slave happened when she was about 12 years old? 

She was in a store and saw a wanted slave down the road. Tubman blocked the door whenever the slave’s owner, who was also in the store, tried to chase the wanted slave. Tubman was struck across the head with a metal weight.

She recalled the scene many years later, as described in “Bound For the Promised Land: Harriet Tubman, Portrait of an American Hero.”

 

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“The weight broke my skull and cut a piece of that shawl clean off and drove it into my head,” said Tubman. “They carried me to the house all bleeding and fainting. I had no bed, no place to lie down on at all, and they laid me on the seat of the loom, and I stayed there all day and the next.”

This act alone could leave people with chills throughout theaters.

I believe there’s nothing more influential than to help a stranger knowing that you can legally be murdered, and no one would care about your death. Tubman had her life to lose over this incident, yet she gave her life for this man’s chance to embrace what was referred to at that time as freedom. 

Fast-forward to around 1850, and Tubman’s main contribution to African-American history started to be unveiled. Not only did she organize a system of checkpoints throughout the country for the Underground Railroad, but she also made the trip from the South to the North 19 times to free about 300 slaves.

This seems like a happy ending, right? Well, on September 18, 1850, the Fugitive Slave Act was passed by the United States Congress, allowing owners to retrieve their slaves from free states.

This added some serious difficulty to Tubman’s plot for freedom, but she outrivaled Congress by adding connections with freed people in the North including William Still, Frederick Douglass and Susan B. Anthony. Still, Douglass and Anthony helped slaves make their way to Canada. This way, the Fugitive Slave Act will not affect them, and they will reach true freedom. 

And that’s probably all that was mentioned of Tubman during seventh grade social studies. 

Her leadership and bravery carried through the Civil War as well, serving as a nurse, spy and commander. Yes, Harriet Tubman was a commander.

Under Generals David Hunter and Rufus Saxton, she was the leader of 150 black soldiers during the Combahee River Raid. She freed more than 750 slaves from their masters because of this successful raid.

She’s not the typical hero in a movie who gets loathed in public recognition after the grand war and receives this cute, happy ending as a reward. Even after all her accomplishments during the pre-Civil War and Civil War period, it took her over 30 years to receive compensation for her duty. 

After the war, her life slowed down, and she passed away in 1913.

In my opinion, the thing that sets Tubman apart from other notable African-American figures is that she was never given a solid ground. Even as an illiterate black woman from a time where she had no legal rights, she was shrewd, physically and mentally capable, and determined to fight for civil justice. The highest she climbed in the social ladder was to the status of a common person, but she accomplished so much without obtaining a celebrity status during her lifetime.

Tubman is a staple for the black civil rights movement as well as the women’s movement, although she wasn’t directly connected with either. She gave one speech for women’s rights, but the peak of that movement occurred after her death. 

Finding a way to inspire African-American women, let alone any marginalized person, couldn’t be easier than to promote what Harriet Tubman accomplished. Imagine if all her hardships were produced into a 100-minute film that accurately portrays the brutality she faced. It wouldn’t be a bland autobiography or a fictional action movie, but an authentic representation of leadership.

Hollywood, you have a task at hand.

 

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