Recognizing all of America’s heroes and sheroes
MARIAN WRIGHT EDELMAN | 5/2/2016, 10:53 a.m.
(George Curry Media) – Every day I wear a pair of medallions around my neck with portraits of two of my role models: Harriet Tubman and Sojourner Truth. As a child, I read books about Tubman and the Underground Railroad. She and indomitable and eloquent slave woman Sojourner Truth represent countless thousands of anonymous slave women whose bodies and minds were abused and whose voices were muted by slavery, Jim Crow, segregation and confining gender roles throughout our nation’s history.
Although Tubman could not read books, she could read the stars to find her way north to freedom. And she freed not only herself from slavery, but returned to slave country again and again through forests and streams and across mountains to lead other slaves to freedom at great personal danger. She was tough. She was determined. She was fearless. She was shrewd and she trusted God completely to deliver her, and other fleeing slaves, from pursuing captors who had placed a bounty on her life.
“‘Twa’nt me. ‘Twas the Lord. I always told Him, I trust You. I don’t know where to go or what to do, but I expect You to lead me. And He always did … On my Underground Railroad, I never ran my train off the track and I never lost a passenger,” she was quoted as saying. No train, bus or airline company can match this former slave woman’s safety record. And few of us could match her faithful partnership with God, determination to be free, and willingness to help others to be free without thought about self-sacrifice.
Now the entire nation will pay public homage to Tubman’s devotion to freedom, and also honor Truth and other great women, and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. who never stopped demanding and working to assure that America lives up to its declared creed of freedom, life, liberty, pursuit of happiness and equality for all.
Kudos to the Treasury Department which has announced that Tubman’s face will grace the front of the redesigned $20 bill, making her the first woman in more than a century and first African American ever to be represented on the face of an American paper note. And it’s wonderful that she will not be alone. Truth and women suffragette activists and leaders will be featured on the back of the $10 bill. Great contralto and opera singer Marian Anderson, for whom I was named and about whom great conductor Arturo Toscanini said “yours is a voice such as one hears once in a hundred years,” will be featured on the back of the $5 bill.
First lady Eleanor Roosevelt arranged for Anderson to perform at the Lincoln Memorial before 75,000 in 1939 after the Daughters of the American Revolution refused to let her sing at Constitution Hall because she was not White. Roosevelt and King will grace the back of the $5 bill rounding out the inspiring group of determined moral warriors who expanded the civil and human rights of women, people of color and all of us.