Thank you to Vontril and Alexandria McLemore, ministry partners of The Gathering, A Womanist Church, for this beautiful duet!
When Harriet Tubman leads the way, setting people free,
they call her Moses of that day, setting people free. Refrain
The Spirit gives her faith and power, setting people free;
she rises in that urgent hour, setting people free. Refrain
When Harriet Tubman helps those bound, setting people free,
they flee by Railroad Underground, setting people free. Refrain
With Spirit strong she risks her life, setting people free;
she helps the slaves escape the strife, setting people free. Refrain
Like Harriet Tubman we will rise, setting people free;
like her we will be brave and wise, setting people free. Refrain
Harriet Tubman leads to the promised land;
we will join her, setting people free.
Words © 2017 Jann Aldredge-Clanton GO DOWN MOSES
Harriet Tubman’s remarkable work in freeing enslaved people and in the liberation of women deserves recognition during Women’s History Month and throughout the year.
Harriet Tubman still has not been given the credit she deserves. There was a grassroots movement to put her picture on U.S. currency, and in April of 2016 Jack Lew, U.S. Treasury Secretary at that time, announced that Harriet Tubman would replace Andrew Jackson on the center of a new $20 bill. The announcement came after the Treasury Department received a groundswell of public support for Harriet Tubman, following a campaign calling for a notable American woman to appear on U.S. currency. She emerged as the choice of more than half a million voters in an online poll, and plans moved forward to debut the Harriet Tubman $20 bill in 2020 (100 years after women earned the right to vote).
But the Trump administration put these plans on the back burner. Steve Mnuchin, Treasury Secretary of that administraton, would not commit to the $20 Harriet Tubman bill, stating that the administration has “a lot more important issues to focus on.” Professional historians and many others signed letters and petitions to Secretary Mnuchin, urging that he carry out previously announced plans to put Harriet Tubman on the $20 bill in 2020. The Biden administration and U.S. Representative Joyce Beatty are now reviving these plans.
Born enslaved in Maryland around 1820, Harriet Tubman escaped to freedom in 1849 and then worked hard to save money to go back and rescue other enslaved people. She risked her life to lead hundreds of enslaved people to freedom on the Underground Railroad, the elaborate secret network of safe houses. She became the most widely recognized symbol of the Underground Railroad.
In honor of Harriet Tubman’s courage in rescuing enslaved people, abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison named her “Moses.” On numerous trips to lead a group of enslaved people to freedom, she placed herself in great danger. There was a bounty offered for her capture because she was a fugitive herself, and she was breaking the law by helping others escape. Frederick Douglas, a famous abolitionist who was formerly enslaved, praised her: “I know of no one who has willingly encountered more perils and hardships to serve our enslaved people than you have.”
During the Civil War, Harriet Tubman worked for the Union Army as a nurse, cook, spy and scout. She was the first woman to lead an armed expedition in the war, guiding the Combahee River Raid, which liberated more than 700 enslaved people in South Carolina.
Later, Harriet Tubman also worked for the liberation of women. She supported the women’s rights movement because she believed in the equality of all people, black or white, female or male. As a woman who had fought for her own freedom and the freedom of others, she traveled widely to give speeches in favor of women’s suffrage. Especially advocating for the rights of African American women, she spoke at the first meeting of the National Association of Colored Women in 1896.
Drawn to the stories of deliverance in the Hebrew Scriptures, Harriet Tubman had a deep faith. She cited her religious beliefs as giving her courage to liberate people from slavery.
Inspired by Harriet Tubman, we can continue the movement for freedom and equality. We can advocate for the recognition of Harriet Tubman and other world-changing women. And like them, we can set people free to be all we’re created to be.
Harriet Tubman leads to the promised land;
we will join her, setting people free