Would Harriet Tubman be proud to be an American today?
I just got back to the house after watching a truly amazing movie about the life of Harriet Tubman, born a slave named Araminta "Minty" Ross. She ended up saving the lives of more than 700 slaves in the 1800s and died an old woman in the early 1900s. She was never properly recognized during her lifetime for her accomplishments, and I believe this movie is an important step in the right direction to her credit. I remember learning about Harriet Tubman in about the third grade, but the subject was basically glossed over and minimized, and I'm glad that I know more about her today.
I think this movie also speaks to the power that one woman can have when she believes in herself--I found myself thinking that Mrs. Tubman was the original Greta Thunberg. She saw injustice, and she fought her entire life to change it, and she had a massive impact on history because of her faith and determination, even though she never received any monetary or societal reward. She did it because it was the right thing to do, and also because she believed that God was telling her to. She had a higher calling, and countless millions have been affected because of her work.
After the Civil War, she went on to fight for the voting rights of women, and she was truly a pioneer for all women's rights. When she rescued people from their slave owner's chains, she brought them to Philadelphia, even after Congress passed the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850, making even liberated slaves fugitives at risk for being heavily punished by the law. She said that, "When I found I had crossed that line [into Pennsylvania], 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." Tubman and her brothers, Ben and Henry, escaped from slavery on September 17, 1849, which coincidentally, is the same date that I was liberated from the bondage of my drug addiction in 2018, and it makes me proud to share this correlation with one of the greatest people in history.
Harriet Tubman, "consulted with," and trusted in God to keep her safe, which is something I struggle with and greatly admire in anyone, especially someone who was hunted like an animal by angry slave-owners for years. Wikipedia says that Thomas Garrett once said of her, "I never met with any person of any color who had more confidence in the voice of God, as spoken direct to her soul." Her faith in the divine also provided immediate assistance. She used spirituals as coded messages, warning fellow travelers of danger or to signal a clear path. She sang versions of "Go Down Moses" and changed the lyrics to indicate that it was either safe or too dangerous to proceed. As she led fugitives across the border, she would call out, "Glory to God and Jesus, too. One more soul is safe!" Ironically, her communication with God began after she received a serious head injury from an angry overseer. Along with visions from God, she also experienced seizures and brutal headaches from this incident, which lasted her entire life.
I found myself wondering though, after watching this extraordinary movie about this exceptional woman this:
Would Harriet Tubman be ashamed of America today?
Would she be embarrassed by Pennsylvania even? Pennsylvania incarcerates more people than even the national average, and the United States incarcerates more people than any other country. Black people make up the vast majority of all those incarcerated, with 3,269 incarcerated out of every 100,000 people. For comparison, the number for whites is only 375 in the state of Pennsylvania. When the Prison Policy Initiative graded all fifty states on their parole policies, Pennsylvania got an F, and that study was published in 2019. The author of the article, Jorge Renaud, also published a piece on excessively long sentences being a growing problem in the United States, and said, "These are people, sentenced to unimaginably long sentences in ways that do little to advance justice, provide deterrence, or offer solace to survivors of violence. The damage done to these individuals because of the time they must do in prison cells - as well as to their families and their communities - is incalculable." According to my research, 63% of the prison population is there due to non-violent crimes, and a full 45% of these are labeled "Drug Related Offenses."
Is this justice? Are we doing anything to treat the underlying causes of drug addiction or just punishing the masses?
I have to wonder:
Would Harriet Tubman be proud to be an American in 2019 after fighting for her entire life for freedom?