Harriet Tubman: The Moses of Her People

I wrote this piece a few years ago for a PhD seminar. We were instructed to write a brief biography of a theological influencer, and I found myself intrigued and humbled by the profound influence of Harriet Tubman. Although thoroughly  uneducated, her "applied theology" reverberates across U.S. history, and reveals a God who refuses to be limited by academic definition. At the outset let me say, this brief biography does not capture all there is to know about Harriet Tubman, the footnotes at the end provide access to more information if you are so inclined. 

Araminta Harriet Ross, born as a slave in eastern Maryland sometime in 1820, suffered under abusive owners for most of her young life, and eventually escaped slavery in 1849. Not satisfied with her own freedom, Tubman went on to make 19 heroic trips to the South, and delivered some 300 slaves to freedom on the notorious Underground Railroad, thereby earning her the nickname, “Moses.” She boasted, “I never lost a passenger.” Known to carry a gun, Tubman threatened to kill reluctant escapees, but fortunately, never had to pull the trigger. Over the years, she fought the hardest to free members of her own family from the bonds of slavery.

Tubman’s remarkable faith in God developed during her years of captivity, and under the influence of Samuel Green, freed slave, Methodist Episcopal preacher, and Underground Railroad agent. Many admired her incredible courage in the face of great odds, and attributed both to her strong faith.

During the Civil War Tubman actively participated in the fight against the Confederacy sometimes as a nurse or a laundress, but most notably, as the first woman to plan and execute an armed military expedition. Additionally, she often led rescue missions to liberate slaves “deep in enemy territory.” Fellow Abolitionist, John Brown, described Tubman as “one of the best and bravest persons on this continent—General Tubman as we call her.”[1]

In addition to aligning with Abolitionists, her political life included campaigning for civil and human rights, and challenging the inferior political, economic, and social roles of women and African Americans. “Harriet Tubman maintained an unblemished record of vigilance, creating a legacy of sacrifice and struggle that carried into the twentieth century. She never grandstanded on any particular issue and made all her public pleas for the benefit of others.”[2]

Eventually, with the help of Secretary of State William Seward, she purchased a home from which she ran in informal shelter; and with the help of her church it eventually became a charity institution: The Harriet Tubman Home. Sadly, despite numerous honors, she spent her last years in poverty. 

As we celebrate Black History Month, I am moved once again by Harriet Tubman's bravery, sacrifice, and strong sense of purpose and freedom. I am also moved by the truth that I am her sister-a few generations removed-but nonetheless part of the same family. As followers of Jesus, it is increasingly important that we recognize that in all of our differences and similarities, we share the same heavenly Father and are eternally bound by the shed blood of Jesus Christ. I look forward to meeting Harriet someday in the Kingdom. 



[1] Christian History: Harriet Tubman   Online: http://www.christianitytoday.com/history/people/activists/harriet-tubman.html?share=%2fTuWMGFAojusPLzvXsW8GRAxqirtjccA. Accessed May 29, 2016.

[2] Clinton, Catherine. Harriet Tubman: The Road to Freedom. New York, NY: Hachette Book Group, 2004.