I was thrilled when my grandmother, Joan Meharg, submitted today’s woman of valor, Harriet Tubman. I’ve always loved her story, even as a child. My mother read me Faith Ringgold’s beautifully illustrated “Aunt Harriet’s Underground Railroad in the Sky” and Jeanette Winter’s “Follow the Drinking Gourd” and visions of freedom danced in my imagination. As a child Harriet Tubman’s story was about freedom. Instead of playing house with my dolls I played runaway slave. I would rescue them and we would run for freedom, hiding from the pursuing imaginary dogs in closets and under beds. The story of Peg Leg Joe and the Drinking Gourd and Harriet’s story merged in my memory and I saw slaves following the North Star and heard the lines of Drinking Gourd rolling through my mind, over and over.
When the sun comes back and the first quail calls,
Follow the Drinking Gourd.
For the old man is waiting for to carry you to freedom,
If you follow the Drinking Gourd.
Guiding slaves along the underground railroad is the most widely recognized part of Harriet’s story, and that alone is enough to place her among many great women of valor. But Harriet did many more amazing things. When she escaped her own life of slavery in her 20′s she did so even without her husband’s support, a huge step at the time. She returned multiple times to rescue various family members to keep them from being sold and further fracturing her family. Harriet was also a Union spy and the first woman to lead an armed expedition in the war. Her expedition led to the freedom of more than 700 South Carolinian slaves.
With all her amazing accomplishments, one of the things that strikes me most deeply about Harriet is how much she gave. Although she was well known during her life, Harriet never had much money, relying on the generosity of friends and family to survive. Despite this she never stopped giving and sharing, even donating the little bit of land she had been given to the church. She gave of herself for the freedom of others, in so many ways. Harriet didn’t just fight for her own freedom. She fought for the freedom of all.
“When I found I had crossed that line, 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.” – Harriet Tubman