I confess – history wasn’t of any particular interest to me as a child. It was simply a required subject of study in school. Although, from time to time, certain people did stand out to me and capture my imagination. In elementary school one of those people was Harriet Tubman. Her bravery, her daring, her courage captured my imagination like few other historical figures did. I imagined her hardships. I cheered her clever escapes and rooted for her as she put herself in danger over and over again, in order to help other slaves escape to freedom. I admired her greatly.
Today, though my perspective is now that of an adult, my admiration and respect for Harriet Tubman has only grown. I now more fully realize the truth of who she was and what she accomplished. As the full weight of her courage and her contribution to history and to humankind becomes clearer to me today than it was for me as a child, my appreciation for the person of courage, commitment, and perseverance that Harriet was only deepens.
That is probably why these words on the classroom wall stood out to me today. “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.” – Harriet Tubman spoke those words. Immediately I thought of Patrick Henry, who years earlier (1775) had cried out, “Give me liberty or give me death!” Kindred spirits, separated by time, Harriet and Patrick both knew the value of freedom and the price often required to obtain it.
Both desired to be able to live free above all else. And both were willing to pay the price necessary to purchase freedom for themselves and for others as well. Unless one has lived in bondage and oppression, I don’t think one can truly appreciate freedom. Must be why so many people from around the world continue to come to the U.S. As awful as we are told our country is and has always been, people arriving here from other countries tell us that they prefer to be here rather than living in the nation they left.
Turns out there is more freedom, opportunity and possibility of prosperity and success here than in many places around the world. But if America is no longer a nation of free peoples where will the oppressed of the world look for help and hope? If the light in the darkness goes out what good will an unlit torch be when passed to the next generation? America has long been that “shining city on a hill” to other nations. This description of our nation arose out of a sermon John Winthrop preached in 1630 aboard the ship, the Arbella, which was sailing for the New World. Winthrop’s expectation was that the new Massachusetts Bay colony would shine as an example to the rest of the world. The Puritans on this ship were leaving everything behind in pursuit of their dream of freedom. They wanted to be free to worship God, not forced to serve their current King. They had made a pact with God and the world would be watching.
In his sermon, Winthrop proclaimed, “The American Dream is that dream of a land in which life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement.” It would be one hundred and forty-six years later that similar words would be written into our Declaration of Independence saying that we are “endowed by our Creator with certain unalienable rights, among them Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” The dream was still alive but much hardship lay ahead if it was to survive. The Revolutionary War would exact a price for the freedom our founding fathers sought.
Almost one hundred years later, freedom was still being desperately sought after right here in our own country. Again the price was high. Many gave their lives so that others might live in freedom – a freedom they themselves would not live to enjoy. The future of our nation was uncertain, as Abraham Lincoln acknowledged when he said, “Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation, so conceived and so dedicated can long endure.”
We were a new nation, a young nation. Could we endure? How had America come to be? Lincoln said we were a nation, “conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that ‘all men are created equal.’ ” No kings or caste system here. One didn’t have to be a rich monarch to own land. Could this great experiment succeed? The world was watching as we went to battle with ourselves, to decide whether equality and freedom were for everyone (as promised) or were they only for some? So many lives were lost in those battles fought to ensure that everyone was to be free in this country. They did not die in vain. Slavery was abolished and the long process of implementing this ideal began.
People continued to pour into America over the next century. America had become that “shining city on a hill” that John Winthrop had proclaimed in 1630 that she should be to the world. The vision that the Massachusetts Bay colony would shine as an example to the world had been realized. The U.S. was that light of freedom, that beacon of hope to other people and nations around the world. Most recently, Hong Kong, in their valiant efforts to remain free, looked to the U.S. for hope and encouragement. But if we are no longer free, the light of freedom will fail to shine and the beacon of hope we have been will be no more. It is a dark world in which no liberty lives.
Harriet Tubman knew that to be true. So did Patrick Henry. They both dedicated their lives to keeping the light of freedom alive. After the Civil War, Harriet continued to be a freedom fighter. She dedicated her efforts to helping women fight for the right to vote. Harriet understood that freedom has a voice and a vote is a voice. Without a vote, our voices are not heard. Harriet knew that if our voices are silenced, we are no longer free. Harriet was courageous enough to let her voice be heard as she traveled around speaking in favor of the women’s suffrage issue. I wonder where Harriet got her courage?
She was a woman of firm faith in God and this no doubt fueled her conviction that all are equal and all must be free.
“There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:28)
“Here there is no Greek or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.” (Colossians 3:11)
Harriet understood that all lives are infinitely valuable to God, who created us in His image. Her faith fueled her desire to see everyone set free. I’m guessing Harriet experienced the truth of these words in her own life –
“Jesus replied, ‘I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave to sin. Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” (John 8:34-36)
“It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.” (Galatians 5:1)
“Jesus said, ‘If you hold to My teaching, you are really My disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.’ ” (John 8:31-32)
These words illuminate the connection between faith, freedom and truth. A country founded on faith in a God who “shows no partiality”, will be charged with providing freedom and equal opportunities for all of its citizens, not just some of them. Nations ruled by monarchs, dictators, despots and other power hungry people have no such mandate guiding them in governing a people who “are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights.” Governments that do not recognize God as the Source of life and of all things, do not recognize individual human rights. They have no reason to do so.
This foundation of faith is what set America apart from other nations. When America loses her faith in Almighty God, her people will lose their freedoms and she will cease to exist. The light will go out. The city on a hill will be no more. The world is watching, wondering, waiting. When we are no longer free, to where will they go in search of that “better life” that Freedom provides, known as the American Dream?
“You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:14-16)
“if My people, who are called by My name, will humble themselves and pray and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land. Now My eyes will be open and My ears attentive to the prayers offered in this place.” (2 Chronicles 7:14-15)
humble ourselves, pray, seek God, turn from our ways to His ways – leads to – God hearing, God forgiving, God healing . . .
sincerely, Grace Day