As Black History Month comes to an end and Women’s History Month begins it is appropriate to discuss Harriet Tubman and Rosa Parks, two women who are connected in the struggle for freedom and equality.
Harriet Tubman – Activist, abolitionist and humanitarian was born Araminta Ross in1822. She was known as Black Moses and the Conductor of the Underground Railroad. Born into slavery in Maryland, at the age of 12 was seriously injured by a blow to the head by the overseer when she refused to assist in tying up another slave who attempted to escape. She continued to endure constant beatings.
In 1844 she was married to John Tubman, a free man, although she was still a slave, subject to be sold away from her husband. Her dream was that they would go north where she could be free. But John Tubman did not believe in her dream and threatened to tell her master. In 1849, she escaped her master, her plantation and her husband and found her way to Philadelphia with the help of abolitionists. She met William Still, a free Black man who recorded the stories of escaped slaves in his book, The Underground Railroad. He felt this book would help African Americans find their relatives who had escaped slavery.
She became a conductor of the Underground Railroad and made at least 20 dangerous and life-threatening missions leading at least a thousand slaves out of bondage. In addition, she served as nurse, spy and scout for the Union Army during the Civil War. She was never paid for any of her service to the Union. She worked with Colonel James Montgomery as a scout and spy putting together groups of spies to inform about what the Confederates were planning. She was responsible for bringing over 500 Black recruits to the Union Army and helped organize the Combahee River Raid to rescue freed slaves. During one of these raids in South Carolina she met her second husband, Nelson Davis. She worked with John Brown and his raid on Harpers Ferry and with Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton for Women’s Suffrage. She lived in Philadelphia and New York before her death of pneumonia in 1913.
Rosa Parks – The same year Harriet Tubman died 1913, Rosa Louise McCauley Parks was born in Tuskegee, Alabama. She was a civil rights activist who became known nationwide for refusing to give up her seat on a public bus. On December 1, 1955 she committed an act of civil disobedience when she refused to give up her seat to a White person when ordered to do so by the bus driver. She was especially chosen for this test case in the hope of forcing an end to the racist and unfair practice. She was trained in civil disobedience at the Highlander Folk School in Tennessee. Her arrest was expected by the African American community so plans went into action by the residents of Tuskegee to car pool, walk or use other alternative means of transportation.
African Americans refused to ride the bus until fair seating was arranged. Parks’ arrest set off a year and a half long bus boycott by every African American who would normally use public transportation. This nearly crippled the bus company. Rosa Parks and the Alabama Bus Boycott began the many rebellions that followed all over the United States in order to bring about fair treatment for African Americans. Sadly to say, 60 years after the bus boycott, African Americans are still advocating for equal rights and equal treatment.
A conversation between Harriet Tubman and Rosa Parks might have gone like:
Harriet Tubman: I freed a thousand slaves. I could have freed a thousand more if only they knew they were slaves.
Rosa Parks: I have learned over the years that when one’s mind is made up, this diminishes fear; knowing what must be done, does away with fear.
Harriet Tubman: I had crossed the line. I was free; but there was no one to welcome me to the land of freedom. I was a stranger in a strange land.
Rosa Parks: Whatever my individual desires were to be free, I was not alone.
There were many others who felt the same way.
Harriet Tubman: For no man should take me alive. I shall fight for my liberty and when the time comes for me to go, the Lord will let them kill me.
Rosa Parks: At the time I was arrested I had no idea it would turn into this. It was just a day like any other day. The only thing that made it significant was that the masses of the people joined in.
Harriet Tubman: I had reasoned this out in my mind. There was one of two
things I had a right to, liberty or death. If I could not have one, I would have the other.
Rosa Parks: I would like to be remembered as a person who wanted to be
free… so other people would be also free.
Harriet Tubman: Every great dream begins with a dreamer. Always remember, you have within you the strength, the patience and the passion to reach for the stars to change the world.
Rosa Parks: Racism is still with us. But it is up to us to prepare our children for
what they have to meet, and hopefully, We Shall Overcome.