#BHM – It’s February

Getting to Know Harriet Tubman
Black History Month – Getting to Know Harriet Tubman (Photo credit: SITES Exhibitions)

February kicks off Black History Month.

I clearly remember sitting in grade 9 History class learning about prohibition in the early 1900’s and wondering to myself; ‘Why is this important to me?’ I was a student in Canada learning about Al Capone and his gang of ‘yes men’ on how they ran the streets of Chicago. Though I did find it interesting, the part that Canada played in this era was barely discussed.

I never understood it at that time and understand it even less now. But I’m sure the Canadian history books have been updated to include more pertinent information (or at least I hope so).

I remember having to go to the public library, outside of school hours, to gain the knowledge I was looking for and even that was limited.

I read about Harriet Tubman (1820-1913), an African-American abolitionist, humanitarian, and Union spy during the American Civil War. Born into slavery, Tubman escaped and subsequently made more than thirteen missions to aid numerous souls escape slavery using the network of antislavery activists and safe houses known as the Underground Railroad. She later helped John Brown recruit men for his raid on Harpers Ferry, and in the post-war era struggled for women’s suffrage.1

She experienced many trials and tribulations all her life and managed to keep her spirits high through her faith in God. She had to take drastic measures such as carrying a gun for protection from slave catchers as well as those travelling with her. She knew if any of the slaves were frightened and wanted to go back to the bondage the had grown accustomed to, they would likely tell their master, ultimately risking her life and the opportunity for others who wanted something that most of us take for granted today. Freedom.

In her early years, as a child of five or six years old, she was sold to a neighbouring plantation owner as a nanny where she would watch the owner’s baby during the night. If the baby cried, Harriet was beaten as it was assumed that she wasn’t doing her job. This is just one of the countless stories that Harriet endured. Later in life, Harriet worked with the North and Tubman became the first woman to lead an armed assault during the Civil War.1

On her last trip to the South, she returned for her parents. Her father was free and after the plantation owner’s death, he bought Harriet’s mother from the owner’s wife. However they were not free of the hate they were experiencing from those around them so Harriet made her way back from New York (where she settled) and traveled 145km to the south in order to lead them back to St. Catherine’s, Ontario (Canada) to live in the place that some of her other family members had called home.1

I could go on with endless stories of what occurred at that time but I’ll digress.

My point is, it’s great that a month has been dedicated to recognizing the accomplishments and progress made over time but Black history is more than the coldest month of the year. It’s about the trials and tribulations along with triumphs. History doesn’t happen in one specific month, it happens all year long.

Martin Luther King shared his dream…but not in February.

Rosa Parks was too tired to stand…but not in February.

Henry T. Sampson invented the Cellular Phone in 1971…but not in February.

T. Grant invented the Golf Tee in 1899…but not in February.

Phillip B. Downing invented the mailbox in 1891…but not in February.

President Obama was elected to become the first black president of the United States of America in 2008…but not in February.

History, from every nation, needs to be recognized throughout the entire year.

I agree a time of reflection is important and I encourage everyone, please keep learning all year long and don’t limit yourself at Black history, learn about world history of every nation.

Find out how we are all connected. It’s often said that ‘history repeats itself’ when negative issues arise. It doesn’t have to if we know past occurrences and make a change. Let’s be creatures of change instead of creatures of habit.

Learning about the darkness of the past can lead us to a brighter future. Ignorance is caused by lack of knowledge.

Knowledge is wisdom and wisdom is power. Let’s all become powerful!

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