In honor of Black History Month, we asked some of our authors and illustrators to reflect on the black historical figures who have meant the most to them. Today, Pamela Tuck, author of As Fast As Words Could Fly, reflects on Harriet Tubman:
I was “introduced” to Harriet Tubman in history class, and her story empowered me. As soon as people hear her name, they instantly think of an African American woman who led slaves to freedom through the Underground Railroad. The courage and bravery she exerted in risking her life shows how she also empowered others to believe in themselves and the promise of freedom. Harriet Tubman’s journey proves how one person can empower a community, a nation, or even the world.
Truthfully, I wouldn’t want to experience the horror of slavery that Harriet Tubman had to face, but I did take the privilege to walk in her shoes when I “became” her in a play I had written for a history competition. Although I placed “her shoes” back in their respected shoebox of history, her voice stayed with me, and found its way into a poem:
I learned hard work early: the lessons of slavery.
Working beside my Papa was the only joy for me.
My Papa’s name was Ben. He was an honest man.
The love we had between us wasn’t in the master’s hand.
I could throw an axe as good as him. I pulled heavy loads for show.
My Papa taught me many things that others didn’t know.
Like how to walk the woods, without a single crack.
Like how to find which way was north, never looking back.
I found out how to love, and then leave it all behind.
How to tread upon the hopes that I held within my mind.
The hope of freedom pushed me: made me take a chance.
That many wouldn’t dare to take because of circumstance.
My head was full of visions. Like a map, they guided me.
Onward north, I followed. To the land of liberty.
Then I had a mission, to set my people free.
I traveled back and forth to kill ole slavery.
The people called me Moses. The reward for me was high.
I didn’t let that stop me. I’d have liberty or die.
I became an engineer on the Underground Railroad.
Swift and quiet through the night; holding secrets never told.
My faith kept me going. Many times I went back.
I never lost a passenger; Nor ran my train off the track!