With the month of February coming to an end, I wanted to talk a little about Black History Month as it is something that I assume most of my European readers aren’t familiar with.
In short: Black History Month is an annual celebration of achievements by black Americans and for recognizing the central role of African Americans in U.S. history. Since 1976, every U.S. president has officially designated the month of February as Black History Month.
One of the many heroes that are being remembered is a woman called Harriet Tubman. Have you ever heard about her?
The New York Times has dedicated an interactive and beautifully done article to her and her story, please read it here if you have a moment. I’ll just give you a very brief intro into this woman’s admirable life story and how she’s impacted the life of so many others.
Who was Harriet Tubman and what did she do?
Harriet Tubman became famous as a “conductor” on the Underground Railroad during the 1850s. Born a slave, she had a very hard life and was beaten brutally by her owners. One time she was hit on the head so hard she fell unconscious. She has suffered from serious health problems ever since. In 1849 she fled slavery. Despite a bounty on her head, she returned to the South at least 19 times to lead her family and about hundreds other slaves northbound via the Underground Railroad to the states where they would finally be free.
Upon reading this first I was confused, an Underground Railroad? What was that, how did it work? It was kind of a network of helpers, whose activities had to be kept secret. Also, the people involved in the network that were helping to free slaves used railway terms to describe how the system worked. Various routes were lines, stopping places were called stations, those who aided along the way were conductors. The network of routes extended through various Northern states and “the promised land” aka Canada.
Why Harriet Tubman was a total badass woman
From what is known about Harriet Tubman is that she must have been an incredibly courageous woman. Even though there was a high reward for her capture as she had fled her owners, she came back to the South so many times to help others.
It is reported that she also always carried a revolver and wasn’t afraid to use it. In case a slave tried to go back home because he got scared she would threaten to shoot him (seems a bit brutal but somehow comprehensible) since that would threaten the safety of the remaining group.
It makes me sad to read about the history of slavery that has been such a dark part of this country I am currently living in. Also, it’s not been that long ago, if you think about it. I understand it is important to remember great moments, achievements and the people like Harriet Tubman that were driving forces behind them yet it is vital to look forward and aim to improve the lives of all people.
Sadly, the African-American community is still facing major struggles, a few of them mentioned below:
- Poverty: Large gaps persist between African-American and the white population in terms of wealth and income.
- HIV/Aids: Something I’ve learned during volunteering at an HIV center was that African Americans are the racial/ethnic group most affected by HIV in the United States. In 2015, they’ve accounted for 45% of HIV diagnoses, though they make only for 12% of the US population.
- Education: A growing share of African-Americans are completing high school and college, yet they lag behind whites in college completion (read more here).
- Unemployment: African-Americans were more than twice as likely to be unemployed (10%) as their White counterparts (5%).
- Criminality: African Americans now constitute nearly 1 million of the total 2.3 million incarcerated population.
I don’t mean to be negative, there are many many great developments happening too (the Boston Globe put an interesting article together covering positive statistics about young black men, check it out here).
Another positive thing was the Oscars award for Best Picture going to ‘Moonlight’ (when it finally did go to ‘Moonlight’ if you know what I mean). Also great moment: The awards for Mahershala Ali, Viola Davis and the cast of ‘Hidden Figures’ being on stage with the REAL NASA mathematician Katherine Johnson (she was the most graceful of all wasn’t she? Also, the Oscars people really know their stuff and how to make you tear up with dramatic music).
Go watch this movie, it’s touching, painful, raw and yet SO beautiful! Have you seen it?
Have a fantastic day!