Before and during the U.S. Civil War, tens of thousands of slaves made their way out of slavery on what was nicknamed the Underground Railroad. It wasn’t a railroad. It was a secret escape route that took slaves from the Deep South across the Mason-Dixon line and beyond.
The slaves were assisted by people known as “conductors” who transported their precious cargo by clandestine means, all the dangerous miles to freedom. And it was Ms. Harriet Tubman who was the greatest single conductor in the history of the Underground Railroad.
An escaped slave herself, and often referred to as “Moses” for her chain-breaking efforts, Tubman was responsible for leading nearly a thousand people to freedom, including her siblings, parents, and numerous nieces and nephews. And though she journeyed deep into slave territories many times with a huge bounty on her head, she was never caught.
She said, “I did something most train conductors can’t never say. I never run my train off the track and I never lost a passenger.” She credited her success to two things. First, she believed God’s divine protection hovered over her and those placed into her care.
And second, once a slave came into her custody, no matter how afraid or demoralized that person might become on the hazardous journey, she never let them return to their chains. She would say to them, with all the resolve her tiny, five-foot frame could muster, “You will be free…or you will die.”
You will be free. This has been the motto of freedom fighters from Harriet Tubman and Patrick Henry to William Wallace and Nelson Mandela. Of course, who can think of freedom without hearing the iconic words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. spoken more than 50 years ago: “When we let freedom ring…we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children…will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old spiritual, ‘Free at last, free at last. Thank God Almighty, we are free at last.’”