Harriet Tubman born Araminta Ross was popularly known for freeing black slaves in the 1800s. She escaped slavery herself as a young woman and became an abolitionist and political activist for black people’s freedom. The 2019 film Harriet is the story of her life starring Cynthia Erivo as Harriet Tubman.
She served in various roles including being a spy for the Union Army during the Civil War. Harriet also led an armed expedition to free hundreds of slaves during the Civil War to bring slavery to an end. Her life was nothing short of heroic and the example she set is still being felt to this day.
Here are 14 powerful lessons you can learn from the Harriet Tubman film:
1. Freedom isn’t free
If there’s anything life has likely taught you is that nothing worthwhile comes on a silver platter. Most of Harriet’s family were born into slavery and their masters had no intention of ever letting them go. Slave owners made a good living from using their slaves for various jobs and were often mistreated. Generations and generations of black people suffered massive oppression from the system even though some of them were made free.
At the beginning of the film Harriet Tubman and her husband, John, quickly realized that their freedom wasn’t going to come free. They had gone through the pains of hiring a lawyer to prove their free status but their owner tore up the evidence right before their eyes.
This act of speaking up for their rights aggravated Harriet’s slave owners prompting them to put her up for sale. Realizing that if she didn’t do something she would be doomed for life and never experience the freedom she craved.
You more than likely relate to this experience where you’ve been motivated to take control of your life. Without taking control of your life you’ll always be at the mercy of other people. I learned that you have to fight for whatever you want in life.
2. Don’t settle for mediocrity
In the film Harriet Tubman decided to flee for her life overnight to avoid being sold. By the time word of her escape had gotten to her slave owners she was pretty far. However, they would catch up with her after some time and corner her at a bridge. Looking this way and that way were her assailants ready to take her back to oppression.
The only other option was to jump into the river below the bridge if she were to realize her dream. She positioned herself to jump to which her slave owner Gideon decides to be gentle with her. With his smooth talk he tries to persuade Harriet to go back with him, ‘promising’ to treat her better.
Caught between fear and the tempting offer Harriet says, “I’m gonna be free or die!” She then jumps into the river not knowing where she’ll end up. All she knew was she was headed for the Promised Land in search of freedom. Similarly we all get caught between seeking security and experiencing freedom and we have to make a decision. In light of uncertainty choose freedom instead because you do yourself and family a disservice by settling for less.
3. Desperate times call for desperate measures
In a nutshell Harriet Tubman’s heroics demonstrated that to attain freedom you need to do whatever it takes. One of her famous statements was,
“I had reasoned this out in my mind, 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.”
This spoke of someone who was willing to put her dignity aside and do whatever she needed to do. At this point she didn’t care about what other people might think or say because she knew what she wanted. When you get to a point of desperation you’ll do almost anything to be free from bondage.
Towards the end of the film Harriet Tubman led an armed expedition to free remaining slaves in Maryland; when the slaves got the rescue call they came running to the boats with a determination to be free no matter what.
It’s understood that they went past their masters who tried to prevent them from leaving to no avail. They were obviously fed up and prepared to be set free from years of oppression.
4. Once free liberate others
After a year since her escape Harriet begins to feel like a stranger in a foreign land. She decides to go back to free her family and friends that she had left behind. Over ten years she went back and forth to rescue more and more slaves rescuing hundreds in the process. Initially she did the rescues herself and eventually through the support of other abolitionists in the Underground Railroad.
In today’s standards liberating others may not be as extreme as in those days but more like showing others what’s possible. Often we don’t realize how our unique ability can inspire other people to follow a similar path in life. That unique gift you carry isn’t for your own benefit but for others to benefit from it.
For Harriet Tubman rescuing other slaves became her life mission which created a big movement. Ultimately her efforts influenced the end of slavery in the United States in the 1860s after years of rescue missions.
You have the potential to do something significant with your life too and you’ll never know what’s possible until you step out in faith. When you’re in a better place remember to go back and help others get where you are as well.
5. Trust God’s leading
Harriet Tubman had a unique sense of God’s voice which she relied heavily on throughout her life. When she escaped herself all she had was her faith in God and her feet to carry her. It is said she traveled about a hundred miles to Philadelphia where she sought refuge from other abolitionists.
Even when she was dissuaded from going back to rescue others in spite of danger, she chose to trust God. Often times she met with danger along the way, coming across situations that would get her killed. Most of her methods were unconventional in getting things done based on visions from God.
It is said Harriet Tubman couldn’t read but she grew up hearing Bible stories as a child. The story of Moses had a huge influence on her life and that led her to trust in God’s voice. When faced with uncertainty leaning towards God is important for guidance.
Trusting God can be difficult especially when where He’s leading you seems hard to see any light. As hard as it may be we must trust Him with every step we take. Her faith in God gave her the boldness to do the mighty exploits she did throughout her life. That’s what trusting God can help you accomplish in your own life.
6. To kill a snake you cut off its head
After leading many slaves to Philadelphia from Maryland, slave owners became restless and pushed for the Fugitive Slave Act. This Act gave slave owners permission to pursue run-away slaves that had settled in other states. Realizing that their hard won freedom was under threat once again Harriet Tubman and the other abolitionists responded.
Slaves in Philadelphia were transferred further north to Ontario, Canada where they were safe from the Fugitive Slave Act. Realizing that slavery wasn’t just going to end a team effort was put together to bring it to an end. In the years of the Civil War an all-out assault was launched in Maryland to rescue every remaining slave.
They had to confront the system of slavery and in the ensuing battle they defeated the former slave owners. Similarly, there are enemies you’ll constantly face in life unless you make the decision to deal with them head on. These include fear, poverty, depression, mediocrity and the like.
Until you cut off a head’s snake it will keep attacking you relentlessly intending to kill you. What are the constant battles that you’re facing in your life? Perhaps it’s time you started dealing with them before they deal with you.
7. Fear is your worst enemy
You can imagine the constant danger that she had to deal with in her pursuit of freedom and rescuing others. In spite of the fear she decided to keep moving forward nonetheless and make progress. She had to jump off a bridge fleeing her master, travel hundreds of miles in the cold of night and so forth.
However, the hardships she had to go through were nothing compared to the life of slavery she had left behind. Once she got past her fears she realized what was possible and achieved her lifelong desire for freedom. Fear after all exists only in the mind and is not a real reflection of what you’re capable of.
Her confidence helped other slaves take the journey with her to the Promised Land. Unfortunately no matter how much you want to help others if they don’t choose to face their fears there’s nothing to do. This was the case with one of Harriet’s sisters called Rachel who lacked the courage to run fearing the worst.
Lack of ability rarely limits us from what we desire but fear. Fear can cripple you or push you to move forward anyway in the face of danger. Don’t allow fear of the unknown to keep you from taking chances to pursue your God-given dreams.
8. Be constantly prepared to pay a higher price
The path to success is rarely what we think it is as there are many twists and turns along the way. When Harriet first ran for her life she had made up her mind to run away from slavery. Along the way she came across unexpected dangers which she just had to get past. Retreating to slavery would have defeated her purpose altogether and put her in a worse position than before.
Her slave owners with their dogs came after her and had to jump off a bridge to escape. She had to walk a hundred miles with no food or water for days. In rescuing other slaves they had to go through a river when other routes were blocked off. She had to take risks that could have jeopardized the entire rescue operations but they succeeded nonetheless.
When the Fugitive Slave Act was passed Harriet and her support team had to flee further north to remain free. It goes to show that paying the price once is never enough to stay in a good place. You must always be prepared to do whatever it takes to achieve new levels of success in life. Life is always changing and so must you.
9. Your choices affect future generations
Present day United States might not have been what it is today were it not for the efforts of Harriet Tubman. Black slavery had been established for hundreds of years until she became defiant and fought against the system. Were it not for the work that she did slavery may well have been a reality even until now.
Whether you’re passive or not you’re making a decision and it will have an effect on the following generations. It can be a scary thought if you’re not doing anything significant with your life right now. Because of that I realize that every passing day is an opportunity to shape the future of my family.
Take stock of your life and consider what the future looks like if you keep doing what doesn’t serve you. If you keep doing those things what will it look like one year from now? How about five years from now or even ten years? What will your family say about you?
If there are any shortcomings you need to deal with, bite the bullet and do whatever you need to do. With whatever you do think about how it affects those that will follow after you. Even if you face uncertainty you’re not doing them any favors by retreating to a place of security.
10. Perceived weaknesses can become strengths
As a young girl Harriet Tubman suffered a head injury that left her bleeding and unconscious though not shown in the film. It caused her constant headaches and dizziness throughout her life until she died but had another effect too. She started to see clear visions in her mind of things that would happen in the future. One of the first experiences was seeing her sisters being sold in a vision before it happened.
She could also sense danger approaching when she made her rescue trips to free other slaves, almost like Spiderman. In spite of the headaches throughout her life that ability to see the future played an important role in abolishing slavery.
Your own negative past experiences can have a positive twist in your life if you have the right perspective. Some negative experiences are self-inflicted indeed but as God’s Word says, “God makes all things to work together for the good of those that love Him.” Think about how you can use them to inspire others instead of staying in a place of self-pity.
Your story can inspire others instead of depressing them as you might think. God doesn’t waste any experience you go through and uses it to serve a greater purpose.
11. Never forget where you come from
After migrating to Canada with other former slaves Harriet had a strong desire to go back for those left behind. At a meeting to plan the rescue many of the people there gave excuses for why it couldn’t be done. These included that it was too far for them and that the trips would take longer than usual.
Harriet Tubman, incensed by their reluctance, gave a heartfelt speech reminding them of the hardships of slavery. Many of them had grown comfortable in their freedom and forgotten about the hardships they once experienced as slaves.
When you forget where you came from you end up taking things for granted which isn’t good. Remembering where you came from keeps you grounded and focused so that you don’t take your freedom for granted.
There are other people that could use your help and you must be prepared to help them out. This in particular applies to your immediate family members and other close people in your life. Think about the people who helped you get to where you are today. Who can you help to get to a better place as well? Whoever they are do whatever you can to help them get to a better place.
12. Teamwork makes the dream work
The Underground Railroad was a subtle network of abolitionists at different places between Maryland and Philadelphia for freeing slaves. Each stop was a ‘train station’ where slaves would seek refuge on their way to freedom. Harriet Tubman herself benefited from this network when she escaped before returning to Maryland to get other slaves.
Ending slavery was not a one man job; the entire network had to work together to achieve one common goal. Without teamwork and everyone doing their own thing slavery would never have come to an end. Anything you do in life requires teamwork to make it work out successfully or you’ll be mediocre at best.
People with different skill sets are necessary to complement your weakness and vice versa. When people are in agreement they can accomplish almost anything they put their mind to whether for good or evil. Some people are wired to do things by themselves but that can only get them to a certain point.
To realize your full potential you must be open to getting help from other people. A famous African saying goes, Umuntu ngumuntu ngabantu which simply means, “A person is a person because of other people.” It’s good to keep that in mind.
13. You’re stronger than you think
Until you’re left with no other option than to fight you’ll tend to remain comfortable wherever you are. This was the case with Harriet Tubman and subsequently everyone else that was fighting against slavery during that time. When she realized that she was getting sold if she remained in Maryland she had no other option than to escape.
As she faced the challenges ahead she realized what she was capable of doing that she didn’t know before. Our greatest strengths tend to come through when in tight situations and we realize abilities we never knew we had in normal situations.
Instead of shying away from scary situations it’s more beneficial to face them head on. I know it can be scary but if you follow through it’ll be a liberating experience. It’s sort of like a dividing line that reveals what you truly believe in your heart. My own life experiences have proved this to be true and I tend to realize what I am capable of accomplishing.
Once you become liberated in your mind and adopt the right mindset you’ll be amazed at what you can do. The root cause of failure is a lack of belief leading to poor actions and then poor results. Get past that barrier and you’ll be good to go.
14. God-ordained dreams come with provision
Ultimately the success of the mission came down to God’s provision at every point along the way. From the people who helped along the way to the resources for aiding rescue missions was God’s doing. When Harriet Tubman escaped she had no perfect picture of how the journey would turn out; all she knew was that God was on her side.
With each step forward she acquired exactly what she needed at the right time. Had she not stepped out in faith none of that provision would have found its way to her. Knowing that God is on your side and is leading you even when you don’t see what’s ahead is comforting.
If your dreams are God-ordained they will have His blessing upon them and assurance of their fulfilment. On the other hand it’s dangerous to do whatever you want and asking God to endorse it. God is not obligated to fulfil anything He hasn’t authored so being sure of your dreams is imperative.
This story demonstrates the power of the human spirit to overcome odds and how God helps when you step out in faith. Harriet Tubman will forever be a hero for her bravery to change the world she knew and making it a better place.