"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; for no man should take me alive."
It's a proven fact that you can't take one credit hour of American History anywhere in the United States without at least hearing your boring teacher drone on about something remotely connected to the Underground Railroad, yet still to this day many people don't realize how insanely balls-out this over-the-top 19th century liberation movement actually was. A clandestine network of super-secret safehouses and crazy Jack Bauer-type CTU "WHERE IS THE BOMB?!"-type shit, the Underground is well known for having transported thousands of African slaves to freedom, but the commonly-utilized, and decidedly-unbadass term "Railroad" really makes the whole thing sound a hell of a lot less dangerous and life-threatening than it actually was. We're not talking about the fucking Chunnel here, folks - this was dangerous-as-hell work deep behind enemy lines, where the slightest misstep could result in the destruction of the entire Railroad system and capture meant a lifetime of savage beatings and humiliating, backbreaking servitude. This wasn't an enterprise taken up by spineless douchebags, a fact that was never more well-illustrated than by the face-meltingly unbelievable story of Harriet Tubman.
Born into slavery on a Maryland plantation, Harriet spent her first twenty-five years living under the watchful gaze of a number of different jackass overseers and housemistresses. While this five-foot tall woman may not have been the most physically imposing specimen this side of the She-Hulk exploding with 'roid rage, hard work made her tough as hell – she toned her body and her muscles working grueling manual labor twelve hours a day, seven days a week. Out in the unforgiving Maryland sun, she beat the hell out of trees with an axe, hacked up firewood, plowed an endless assortment fields, and drove unwieldy ox-carts. Before long, her physical strength matched her unshakable willpower.
Despite facing a lifetime of cruel bondage, Harriet Tubman never took fucking shit from anybody ever. Her stubbornness and refusal to back down generally resulted in her suffering endless beatings and physical abuse, including one time when she was smashed in the head with a lead weight for defending a fellow slave (a wound that left her suffering dizzy spells and light-headedness for the rest of her life), but she simply refused to have her spirit broken by a bunch of jackass rednecks on a power trip. Finally, one cloudy night in 1849, Harriet Tubman had enough of it. She made a break for freedom. Fleeing into the darkness, Tubman traveled for several days through the unfamiliar Maryland wilderness, and didn't look back until she reached the friendly, we-promise-we-won't-enslave-you confines of Philadelphia.
As awesome as it was to no longer live in slavery, there was still one problem – Harriet left behind her mother, father, and nine siblings. While most people would have just shrugged and said, "fuck it dudes, you're on your own," Harriet Tubman did the unbelievable – she fucking went BACK to the plantation, tracked down her family, and led THEM to freedom. That's just how she rolled, bitches.
Once Harried saw that she was capable of leading a large band of fugitive slaves safely to freedom (seriously, ten kids! Her family was almost as prolific as those crazy nutjobs in Utah who named all their kids with the letter J!) Harriet decided that she couldn't enjoy her freedom while her people remained in bondage. Using the code name "Moses", she returned to Maryland TWENTY more times, each time delivering her people from the chains of slavery to the promised land (which in this case was Niagara Falls, Canada, a 350-mile walk from the Maryland border) where they didn't have to worry about shit like getting whipped for insubordination or not having enough food to eat. Tubman rescued over 300 slaves over the course of 20 years, and was one of the greatest and most fearless heroines of antebellum America.
The Underground Railroad was some serious shit. Deep behind unfriendly lines for days and weeks at a time, Tubman and her crew slept in swamps, hid during the day, and moved under the cover of darkness. Travelling with women and children, young and old, and being pursued relentlessly by police, soldiers, attack dogs, bounty hunters, and slave-catchers barely caused her to flinch. She urged her people on, led them to freedom, and threatened to fucking face-shoot anybody who suggested giving up or turning back (seriously - if one member was caught or returned, it jeopardized the entire Railroad, and she would rather have capped someone in the face than seen that shit go down). Although she was illiterate and uneducated, Harriet Tubman was by no means stupid – she cleverly hid from her would-be captors, outsmarted the entire population of Maryland nearly two dozen times, and told everybody else to get bent harder than Uri Geller's silverware collection. She made her escapes on Saturdays, which bought her a one-day head start because wanted posters could not legally be posted on Sundays – and twenty-four hours was all she needed to leave her enemies in her dust. Despite the fact that there was a $40,000 reward for the "black ghost" (a figure that today equates to a cool $4 mil), she was never caught, never defeated, and never lost a single person she escorted to freedom.
When Tubman wasn't risking her life trying to save people from bondage or biting live Piranha in half, she spoke out publicly against slavery, worked at a hotel, and helped John Brown plan and finance his attack on the federal arsenal at Harper's Ferry. When the Civil War blew up like whoa, she fucking signed on as a scout with the Union Army, serving as a reconnaissance officer for Colonel James Montgomery. As a scout and spy, Tubman helped slaves escape the South, provided them with medical attention, and encouraged them to seek vengeance on their former masters by enlisting in the Federal army. She also participated in a number of military engagements, including the Raid on Combahee Ferry in 1863, when she personally helped liberate 800 slaves in a single battle. Amazingly, she wasn't even paid for her work, preferring to earn her money brewing badass root beer for the soldiers. Man, I fucking love root beer.
In the 1890s Tubman had fucking brain surgery, without anesthesia She allegedly bit down on a bullet for the pain. Is that tough enough for you?
After the war she received a military pension, built a house in upstate New York, and opened up a rest/retirement home for elderly black men and women. Even into her later years she stood up for her rights, fighting for women's suffrage alongside no-bullshit chicks like Susan B. Anthony and Emily Howland. Harriet Tubman died in 1913 at the age of 93, and was buried with full military honors.
"I know of no one who has encountered more perils and hardships to save our people."
- Frederick Douglas
Bales, Kevin. New Slavery. ABC-CLIO, 2004.
Brown, Hallie Quinn. Homespun Heroines. Oxford Univ. Press, 1988.
Hakim, Joy. A History of US. Oxford Univ. Press, 2002.
Harper, Judith E. Women During the Civil War. Taylor & Francis, 2004.
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