Black History Month is HERE! But except from a few posts on social media on the 1st of October, it seems like everyone has forgotten about it in favour of Breast Cancer Awareness month. Now I am not saying that we shouldn’t be aware of breast cancer, but surely the two can co-exist in the great month of October. For me, when I was in primary and secondary school, October was one of my favourite months, where we would dive into the history of people I could identify with. It was inspiring to see what Black people had achieved here in the UK, overseas in the US and of course in the motherland. Growing up it seems the emphasis on black history in October is slowly fading away with the push for it starting in schools. However, in college it was almost non-existent and in university it was the Afro-carribean, Nigerian and other minority societies where the ones keeping this concept alive. I realise that I too am responsible about the lack of conversation around black history, I too have forgotten the sacrifices those before me has had to make, so that the life I live today is possible. Whilst society still has a way to go, it is important to remember where we came from and those that had to suffer, so we don’t get lost in the sauce. Let’s start the conversation today, with our friends, our family members and our colleagues. Because black lives matter, they mattered decades ago, they matter today and they will matter tomorrow.
So here at Lianne’s Legacy we are going to pay homage to one of the black female legends that paved the way for us today. Harriet Tubman.
My girl Harriet is an OG in this game and one of the most inspirational – at least in my eyes – icons of the movement. Born into slavery, she knew nothing else, her siblings were slaves, her mother was a slave, her father was a slave ,all around her black people were in bondage. Her upbringing tells the story of a young girl who moved from job to job on a 19th century plantation in Maryland. She began – as many of us do – as a babysitter, or more accurately nursemaid to an infant. The difference is she started this job at around the age of 5 and she was whipped whenever the baby cried, which left both emotional and life-long physical scars.
By the age of 12 Harriet begun working in the fields engaging in physical labour, as opposed to staying in the house doing domestic work. Although, she too was malnourished & mistreated it seems she still saw the injustices of the world and thought that she should help. One day she saw a man about to throw a heavy weight at a fugitive slave and she stepped in. She recalls that “The weight broke my skull and cut a piece of that shawl clean off and drove it into my head. 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 incident is thought to be the cause of her sleeping spells and “God sent visions” she often received that would aid her in getting slaves safely to freedom using the underground railway.
The Underground Railroad
In 1840 Harriets dad was set free, she later found out that her herself, her mother and her siblings had also been set free in their owners will. Of course being the greedy slave master that he was, her current owner refused to honour the will. So, instead of waiting on the white man to cut her a break, Harriet took things into her own hands and with her brothers decided to run away. The boys changed their mind and went back, but Harriet stayed the course and travelled all the way to Pennsylvania, to freedom.
She got herself a little job in Pennsylvania, but it wasn’t enough. What’s the point in living your best life, if you aren’t sharing it with the people you love right? So, she went back down south and begun to help other people get to freedom including some of her own family members. She started to build a network of people that she could trust to host and arrange transportation for slaves. She made around 19 trips herself and boasts that she never lost a passenger, freeing over 300 slaves and possibly more. Being deeply religious, she often attribute much of her success to God and the way that he spoke to her and gave her dreams and visions on these expeditions. God gave her the courage and guided her in all her endeavours.
When Lincoln became president it was clear that he had no plans to advance slave rights but to contain it within the boundaries it exists. As you can imagine, not everyone agreed with this approach and a civil war broke out in 1861. So, when the civil war broke out Harriets efforts to help fight slavery did not stop, she found a new way to serve. She worked as a cook and a nurse and became with the Combahee River Raid, she became the first woman in the civil war to lead an assault, setting free over 700 slaves.
You would think, that after everything that she has done. The sacrifices she’s made and the lives she touched, that she would take a back seat, chill. But Harriet was not the type of woman to sit back, she was a giver at her very core. In her later years she had an open door policy, committed to helping those in need.
Harriet’s story depicts a life of a survivor, of a fighter. Tells a story of a strong black female legend, who did more than help, she saved lives. She didn’t let her circumstances, her lack of anything, act as excuses. Being hit in the head would serve as the violin in someone else’s story. But not hers, she used it as quality that made her stronger, a plight that made her better able to help others. That is what I want to take from this story. The ability to look at life and see that every facet of it is constructed and brought together for my purpose. Not to inhibit me, but to advance me. I could only hope to leave half a legacy that Harriet did and hopefully her story touches you as much as it did me.