Posts Tagged ‘Heroes’

What’s so remarkable about Harriet Tubman?

June 5, 2016
This is not how Harriet Tubman will appear on the $20 bill

This is NOT how Harriet Tubman will appear on the $20 bill

I knew hardly anything Harriet Tubman before the current announcement that her face will appear on the $20 bill.  During the past couple of weeks, I’ve read books that help me appreciate her for what she was.

What’s remarkable about Harriet Tubman is how she risked her life, not once but many times, in order to achieve her own freedom and the freedom of others—as a gun-toting conductor for the Underground Railroad and then as a scout and spy for the Union Army.

She did all of this at her own initiative and much at her own expense.  She financed her first slave rescue expeditions with money she earned as a cook and cleaner, and her work for the Union Army by making and selling pies and root beer.  A poor illiterate black woman who suffered blackouts probably due to a childhood head injury, she earned the respect of intellectuals and generals.

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She was born a slave in Dorchester County, Maryland, sometime from 1820 to 1825 under the name of Amarinta Ross.  At the age of five or six, she was hired out as a nursemaid to keep watch on a baby; whenever the baby woke up and cried, she was whipped.  Once she was whipped five times before breakfast.

Later jobs included muskrat trapping, field and forest work, driving oxen, plowing and hauling logs.

Once an irate slave owner threw a heavy metal weight at another slave and hit her instead.  She said the blow “broke my skull.”  She suffered dizziness, pain and blackouts throughout the rest of her life.  A devout Christian, she also experienced strange visions, vivid dreams and premonitions that she thought were the voice of God.

Harriet_Tubman_Locations_MapIn 1849, she escaped to Philadelphia, and adopted the name of Harriet Tubman.  Many escaped slaves changed their names in order to make recapture difficult.   She was married to John Tubman, a free black man about 10 years older than her, but he refused to go with her.

Her position was as precarious as that of an illegal immigrant today.  Under the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850 as well as previous law, she could have been arrested and returned to slavery at any time.

Rather than playing it safe, she returned to Maryland to rescue members of her family, not just once, but at least 13 times.  Slowly, one group at a time, with the help of the Underground Railroad, she brought an estimated 60 or 70 slaves to freedom, and helped possibly 60 or 70 more by showing them the route.

Among them were brothers, sisters, nephews, nieces and her aged parents who by that time were free, but were under suspicion of aiding the others to flee.   She sought out her husband, but he had meanwhile found a new partner.

She may have been the only fugitive slave who regularly ventured back into slave territory to bring other enslaved people out.  This is especially remarkable because she went back to a place where she was known by sight to white people in the community.

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The most dashing French count I ever heard of

July 8, 2012

Robert de la Rochefoucauld, a French count who died May 8 at the age of 88, was in the French Resistance during World War Two, and led an adventurous life thereafter.  He lived like the hero of a Rafael Sabatini novel, who would be played by Errol Flynn in the movie version.  His obituary in the London Telegraph is full of paragraphs like this.

En route to his execution in Auxerre, La Rochefoucauld made a break, leaping from the back of the truck carrying him to his doom, and dodging the bullets fired by his two guards.  Sprinting through the empty streets, he found himself in front of the Gestapo’s headquarters, where a chauffeur was pacing near a limousine bearing the swastika flag.  Spotting the key in the ignition, La Rochefoucauld jumped in and roared off, following the Route Nationale past the prison he had left an hour earlier.

And this.

Robert de la Rochefoucauld

He faked an epileptic fit and, when the guard opened the door to his cell, hit him over the head with a table leg before breaking his neck. …  After putting on the German’s uniform, La Rochefoucauld walked into the guardroom and shot the two other German jailers.  He then simply walked out of the fort, through the deserted town, and to the address of an underground contact.

And this toward the end.

When detectives arrived to question La Rochefoucauld, his wife told them: “Don’t try to lock him up. He escapes, you know.”

Click on Count Robert de la Rochefoucauld to read the whole obituary.

Hat tip to kottke.org.

A tough way to earn a living

June 4, 2011

This Al Jazeera documentary shows how Bolivian coca farmers swing on rusty cables between mountain cliffs, above abysses more than 400 feet deep, to earn their livings.  When I see things like this, I feel admiration for the courage and the lengths to which people will go to provide for themselves and their families, I feel gratitude for my own soft life, and I feel a wish to live in a world in which performing daredevil feats was a choice and not a necessity.

Click on The flying men of Yungas valley for more.

Hat tip to Jack Clontz.