Go Down Moses

When Harriet Tubman was 13, her skull was fractured by a 2-pound lead weight in a dispute between an overseer and another slave.  After this, she began having visions and conversations with God.  She told people she was always talking to the Lord.  In 833, a year or two before her injury, she also witnessed a spectacular meteor shower which no doubt made a deep impression on her–many people at the time took as a sign in the heavens.  Later in life, perhaps related to both the night of falling stars and the bump on the head that made her see stars, she told people she had always known how to follow the North Star.   Relying on her visions and her guidance from God,  Tubman became an extraordinary human being.  Slaves called her Moses because she sang “Go Down Moses” to announce her presence.  Did it matter to her essence–should it matter to us–where her visions came from?

In 1865, after Tubman had become a living symbol of the possibility of freedom, she was severely beaten for refusing to leave a whites-only car on a train from Philadelphia to New York.  “I am as proud of being a black woman,” she told the conductor of the train where she was beaten, “as you are of being white.” Madison Smartt Bell, whose review of a book about Harriet Tubman by Beverly Lowry I just drew on, asserts that this pride shines through in photographs of Tubman–that photos “show forth her indomitable desire to be herself in freedom.”    Does it matter if we are mechanical, the product of the countless happenings that go into our arising and development?

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