BY Paul Siemering, Cambridge, Massachusetts
Harriet Tubman launched her spectacular career when she was only thirteen years old. A fellow slave was tied to a post and getting whipped. As was the custom in those days, the other enslaved people were forced to watch this torture. But Harriet, young as she was, could not tolerate such cruelty. She ran to the victim and quickly untied him. The overseer who had been doing the whipping was furious. He picked up the first projectile he could find and threw it at the slave. But he hit Harriet on the head. She dropped to the ground, and her mother took her back to the cabin.
Harriet was in a coma for 3 days. Her recovery was slow but she did regain her strength. However she was left with a brain trauma that caused her at any time, without warning, to fall unconscious. This problem lasted the rest of her life. When these episodes happened, there was nothing anyone could do but wait until she came to.
A few years later, Harriet decided to make a run for freedom on the Underground Railway with two brothers. The boys became frightened and turned back, but Harriet continued on until she reached the North.
It wasn’t long, though, before Harriet returned to the South to free other enslaved people. Freedom was considered an unforgivable crime by the slave owners. Bounty hunters with blood hounds made a profitable living catching freedom fighters, so any escape attempt was fraught with great danger. Because Harriet was a superhero though, she had to keep going back to free more slaves. You may see pictures of her carrying a gun. She always told every group she took that if they wanted their freedom, she would guide them North. But once they joined her, she explained, they must remain or she would shoot them: anyone who tried to run back endangered the whole group.
Harriet Tubman made many trips as a conductor on the Underground Railway and never lost a passenger. After awhile She developed quite a reputation among the slave “owners”. They raised $40,000 of reward money for anyone who could catch her.
Making all those trips, risking her own life over and over again – all this knowing that at any given moment of these journeys she could pass out- is more than enough to qualify as a superhero by any standards.
You can look through anybody’s history, anytime, anywhere.
But you’ll never find anyone as brave and tenacious as Harriet Tubman.
Paul Siemering taught in the Boston public schools for 30 years, then volunteered for 20 years longer. Now in his 80s and living in what may well be the last commune left in Cambridge, Paul’s posts are written for people of all ages. I met him when I was 12, going on 13, and he has been my friend ever since.
Follow him on Facebook if you want a good online friend.