Married to Purpose - Harriet Tubman
Harriet Tubman (1822-1913) is officially on my list of superheroes after watching the movie HARRIET. I usually avoid slavery themed movies but I gave this 2hr film a chance and I am so glad I did! Packed full of inspiration and a beautiful soundtrack, I just couldn’t keep it to myself! This blog intends to focus the powerful lessons and doesn’t attempt to separate the facts from the fiction portrayed in the movie.
Born on a plantation in Maryland to an enslaved mother, as one of 9 children, she was named Araminta and fondly called Minty. From as young as 6 years, she was rented out to neighbouring plantations for work.
#1 Reframe your weaknesses
At the age of 13, Harriet suffered a dreadful accident where a metal weight was thrown at her head which caused bouts of narcolepsy. This made it difficult to keep renting her out or to even sell her because no one wanted a slave who fell into sleep trances while working. This weakness, this brain injury became Harriet's source of strength. She believed God was speaking to her during these episodes. In the movie, her narcolepsy saved her life many times because they brought on premonitions that warned her of danger ahead. Another ‘weakness’ of Harriet’s was that she could not read, so written instructions would have been no use to her. To her this wasn't a weakness, instead, she believed she had something better - her memory and her premonitions. The advantage of this was that there was no risk of being caught with the route map or it falling into the wrong hands.
We can learn from Harriet to reframe our weaknesses; being certain of our success BECAUSE of them not just IN SPITE OF them.
#2 Control your destiny
When her master dies, his family intend to sell Minty to make ends meet. Having suffered the separation from 2 of her sisters being sold off, she decided it was better to run away. Her husband was a free man and if he was caught helping a slave escape, he would definitely lose his freedom, so she decided to run away alone. Harriet didn’t wait for any to rescue her, she came up with a rescue plan by herself. This decision led to an even greater purpose. She went on to build networks and signals to free slaves so much that she was dubbed ‘Moses’ (a reference to Moses who freed the Israelites).
The truth is that waiting for someone else to save you will cost time but in taking control of your own life, you gain experience and possible success.
#3 Hope is not a strategy
Some masters promised freedom to their slaves when they get to a certain age; some even promised never to sell them but they didn’t always keep their word. For Harriet, hope for freedom was not her only plan. Her owner’s didn’t keep their promise for freedom to her mother nor to her and were bent on enslaving any children she bore. She did not want to risk a future of slavery for her unborn children, so she knew that escape was necessary. Without knowing all the details, she had a strong resolve to take action - to start running. Our hope has to be backed by action, we need to act on what we believe. Harriet believed that it was her human right to be free or die trying.
#4 You always have a choice.
After saying goodbye to her father, he sends Harriet to Reverend Green, the local preacher for his blessings. She could have chosen to disobey this strange instruction but she went. On reaching the Reverend, he also gave her the option of sneaking back home before anyone noticed she had escaped. But her mind was made up - she was never going back! Seeing her resolve, the Reverend give her instructions for the underground railroad that will lead her to safety in Philadelphia. Meanwhile Harriet’s owners had trailed her scent and soon caught with her on a bridge. She had the choice of surrendering or jumping off the bridge into the raging river below. She chose to jump and survives, of course! The choices Harriet made resulted in her freedom and that so many others after her.
When we make choices, it unlocks power within us that remains locked in a place of indecision.
#5 Live a life of contribution.
Many who ran the underground railroad were either freeborn black people or white abolitionists who believed in a cause greater than themselves. After about one year of living free, Harriet was not content with just her own freedom, she wanted to free the rest of her family so she decided to go back to Maryland. Her new friends in Philadelphia warned her of the dangers but her value for freedom outweighed her fear of danger. She went back over 13 times some (sources say 19 times) in a 10 year period and personally freed about 70 slaves from slavery.
Sharing enhances all our experiences, this is what connects us and where we find the greatest fulfilment.
#6 Don’t give up
The passing of slave fugitive laws granting slave owners the right to recapture escaped slaves meant that arriving in Philadelphia was no longer enough to guarantee freedom. The previously 100 mile journey to freedom became a 600 mile journey to Canada where slavery was already abolished.
The difficulties and challenges we encounter in life can often cause us to give up on what is important to us. In the film, Harriet suffers other losses, her husband marries someone else when he presumed she died during her escape. Her close friend in Philadelphia was beaten to death by slave catchers and one of her sisters dies in slavery. None of these deterred her from her purpose - instead they fuel her to keep going. She vows to spend every last drop of blood in her to free as many slaves as possible.
#7 Be the change
In the movie, we not only see Harriet’s transformation into this fearless slave liberator but we also see a one time slave catcher, Walter, transform into a slave liberator too. Walter witnessed one of Harriet’s narcoleptic episodes and how a premonition guided her on the right path. This amazed him and convicted him to join her crusade.
Just by living our lives, we have the ability to impact others - near or far - to show them what is possible. There is no doubt that the freedom Harriet obtained for her family and all the people she rescued would have significantly transformed the way they lived and the way they treated others.
Harriet was indeed a remarkable woman who dedicated herself to the most meaningful cause in life - freedom. While we may not be fighting causes on that scale, I know that we can apply these 7 lessons to our own lives today.