March 2020 WATERritual

Honoring Harriet Tubman for Women’s History Month

By Diann L. Neu, Techika Rhodes and Laura Carr-Pries

Listen to the recording of the ritual here.

“Every great dream begins with a dreamer. Always remember, you have within you the strength, the patience, and the passion to reach for the stars to change the world. If you hear the dogs, keep going.” Harriet Tubman

Preparation

Place the WATERritual script with the photo of Harriet Tubman in front of you.

Call to Gather

Welcome to this WATERritual during these troubling and uncertain times of the worldwide coronavirus pandemic that is changing minute by minute. Stay safe and healthy as we shelter in place and pray for a cure and solutions to bring an end soon.

This is Women’s History Month and it is important to honor perhaps one of the greatest women of our time, Harriet Tubman. Take a good look at her photo. What an amazing woman. It is time to lift our voices and continue to strive toward freedom and justice like Harriet did.

Tonight, we will tell Harriet’s story, raise up black women who carried on her legacy, and challenge ourselves to be as prophetic. We join Harriet Tubman and other women as we reflect on ways that we have contributed and lived out freedom in our own lives.

 

Naming the Circle

Let us speak our names, say where we are geographically and how we are coping during this coronavirus pandemic.

The Story of Harriet Tubman

Harriet Tubman is an iconic figure, an example of a woman who demonstrated a lifetime of resistance to multiple forms of oppression. Harriet was born a slave around 1820 on the Eastern shore of Maryland. In 1849, Harriet escaped over the Mason-Dixon line to freedom in Pennsylvania, and later into Canada, following the enactment of the Fugitive Slave Act which allowed slave owners to recapture freed slaves and bring them south. After her own escape, Harriet proceeded to help her family and other slaves escape to freedom, totaling over 70 people, rightfully earning her the title of the greatest Underground Railroad conductor.

Her resistance to oppression continued through the Civil War as a nurse, scout, and spy, notably freeing 700 slaves at the Combahee Ferry Raid. She was active in the struggle for women’s rights. She opened and operated a home for the aged in Auburn, NY. She died of pneumonia over the age of 90 in 1931 in Auburn.

In Harriet, we witness the strength and resilience of a woman who advocated for change, while encountering barriers on account of her race, gender, geography, and disability. Harriet has been the subject of books, movies, and legend, and some critique that Harriet’s legacy has been flattened, or made palatable, by leaving out certain stories. What stories have you heard about Harriet? What do you imagine about the character of Harriet based on these stories? As we reflect on the life and legacy of Harriet, I invite you to continue imagining the woman Harriet was, as she unceasingly fought systemic oppression and lived that all be free.

Song: Harriet Tubman by Holly Near and Ronnie Gilbert https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FnF0PDefPFI

One night I dreamed, I was in slavery
‘Bout 1850 was the time
Sorrow, was the only sign
Nothing around to ease my mind

Out of the night, appeared a lady
Leading a distant Pilgrim band
“First mate” she yelled, pointing her hand
“Make room aboard for this young woman”

Chorus: Singing come on up, umm, I got a lifeline
Come on up to this train of mine
Come on up, umm, I got a lifeline
Come on up to this train of mine
She said her name was Harriet Tubman
And she drove for the underground railroad

Hundreds of miles, we traveled onward
Gathering slaves from town to town
Seeking, every lost and found
Setting those free that once were bound
Somehow my heart, was growing weaker
I fell by the wayside’s sinking sand
Firmly did this lady stand
Lifted me up and took my hand

Chorus: Singing come on up, umm, I got a lifeline
Come on up to this train of mine
Come on up, umm, I got a lifeline
Come on up to this train of mine

Who are these children dressed in red
They must be the ones that Moses led

Chorus: Singing come on up, umm, I got a lifeline
Come on up to this train of mine
Come on up, umm, I got a lifeline
Come on up to this train of mine
She said her name was Harriet Tubman
And she drove for the underground railroad

Follow
Follow the Drinking Gourd
Follow

Harriet Tubman Speaks 

“I was the conductor of the Underground Railroad for eight years, and I can say what most conductors can’t say — I never ran my train off the track and I never lost a passenger.”

–Harriet Tubman at a Suffrage Convention in NY, 1896.

Poem – Cheryl

Harriet Tubman by Eloise Greenfield, African American poet from Prince George’s County, MD

Harriet Tubman didn’t take no stuff
Wasn’t scared of nothing neither
Didn’t come in this world to be no slave
And wasn’t going to stay one either

“Farewell!” she sang to her friends one night
She was mighty sad to leave ’em
But she ran away that dark, hot night
Ran looking for her freedom
She ran to the woods and she ran through the woods

With the slave catchers right behind her
And she kept on going till she got to the North
Where those mean men couldn’t find her

Nineteen times she went back South
To get three hundred others
She ran for her freedom nineteen times
To save Black sisters and brothers
Harriet Tubman didn’t take no stuff
Wasn’t scared of nothing neither
Didn’t come in this world to be no slave
And didn’t stay one either

Song: “Stand Up” by Cynthia Erivo, from the movie Harriet

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NEMsIHVejWM

I been walkin’
With my face turned to the sun
Weight on my shoulders
A bullet in my gun
Oh, I got eyes in the back of my head
Just in case I have to run
I do what I can when I can while I can for my people
While the clouds roll back and the stars fill the night

Chorus: That’s when I’m gonna stand up
Take my people with me
Together we are going
To a brand, new home
Far across the river
Can you hear freedom calling?
Calling me to answer
Gonna keep on keepin’ on
I can feel it in my bones

Early in the mornin’
Before the sun begins to shine
We’re gonna start movin’
Towards that separating line
I’m wadin’ through muddy waters
You know I got a made-up mind
And I don’t mind if I lose any blood on the way to salvation
And I’ll fight with the strength that I got until I die

Chorus: So I’m gonna stand up
Take my people with me
Together we are going
To a brand, new home
Far across the river
Can you hear freedom calling?
Calling me to answer
Gonna keep on keepin’ on

And I know, what’s around the bend
Might be hard, to face cause’ I’m alone
And I just might must fail, but Lord knows I tried
Sure as stars fill up the sky

Chorus: Stand up
Take my people with me
Together we are going
To a brand, new home
Far across the river
I hear freedom calling
Calling me to answer
Gonna keep on keepin’ on
I can feel it in my bones

I go to prepare a place for you
I go to prepare a place for you

Litany of Gratitude for Black Women

Reader 1: Many black women carry on the legacy of Harriet Tubman. Let’s name and give thanks for some of them:

Reader 1: Claudette Colvin, Rosa Parks, and the brave women who sparked the Civil Rights Movement in the United States, who refused segregation.

Response: Thanks for standing up and taking people with you!

Reader 2: Michelle Obama, author, lawyer, first Black First Lady of the United States, you championed education for young girls and worked to create a healthier country and world.

Response: Thanks for standing up and taking people with you!

Reader 1: Tarana Burke, you started the #MeToo movement.

Response: Thanks for standing up and taking people with you!

Reader 2: Toni Morrison, thank you for writing novels that helped to illumine the conditions of African American people and to educate the world with your writing.

Response: Thanks for standing up and taking people with you!

Reader 1: Thank you, Beyoncé Knowles-Carter, singer, songwriter, entertainer, actress, entrepreneur, for being the most nominated woman in the Grammy Award’s history, with a total of 24 win.

Response: Thanks for standing up and taking people with you!

Reader 2: To the next generation of young women who will be brave, prophetic, and make a difference for all of us.

Response: Thanks for standing up and taking people with you!

 

Song

So I’m gonna stand up
Take my people with me
Together we are going
To a brand, new home
Far across the river
Can you hear freedom calling?
Calling me to answer
Gonna keep on keepin’ on

Reflection | Sharing

What has touched you about the story of Harriet Tubman? What characteristics of Harriet Tubman do you admire and seek to embody? How are you standing up, taking people with you, and joining others on the road to freedom?

 

Harriet Tubman Speaks

“I had crossed the line. I was free; but there was no one to welcome me to the land of freedom. I was a stranger in a strange land; and my home after all, was down in Maryland; because my father, my mother, my brothers, and sisters, and friends were there. But I was free, and they should be free.”

Harriet Tubman, Scenes in the Life of Harriet Tubman by Sarah Hopkins Bradford

Song Harriet-Goodbye Song (Scene from the Harriet movie) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NrGrxa-fhKE

When that Pharaoh chariot comes, I’m gonna leave you
I’ll meet you in the Promised Land, I’m gonna leave you
I’m sorry I’m gonna leave you, Farewell Oh farewell
But I’ll meet you in the morning, Farewell Oh farewell
But I’ll meet you in the morning, Farewell Oh farewell

When that Pharaoh chariot comes, I’m gonna leave you
I’m bound for the Promised Land, I’m gonna leave you
I’m sorry I’m gonna leave you, Farewell Oh farewell
But I’ll meet you in the morning, Farewell Oh farewell
I’ll meet you in the morning, I’m bound for the Promised Land
On the other side of Jordan, bound for the Promised Land

I’m sorry I’m gonna leave you, Farewell Oh farewell
But I’ll meet you in the morning, Farewell Oh farewell
Oh oh, I’ll meet you in the morning, Farewell Oh farewell
Oh, I’ll meet you in the morning, Farewell Oh farewell…

Sending Forth

Filled with the prophetic spirit of Harriet Tubman, stand up and carry forward her life and legacy. Let us continue working for racial justice. Let us continue to pray and work for an end to the coronavirus.

Response: May our work be a response to freedom’s call.

Take Action 

  • See the movie Harriet. This is a powerful story of Harriet Tubman, a strong, charismatic women, an American abolitionist and political activist from Dorchester County, MD. Born into slavery, Tubman escaped and subsequently made some 13 missions to rescue approximately 70 enslaved people, including family and friends, using the network of antislavery activists and safe houses known as the Underground Railroad.
  • See the play “Rachel” written by Angelina Weld Grimke which opened in New York on April 26, 1917. It is about an African-American family at the turn of the 20th It was the first play by an African-American, with an all-black cast performed before an integrated audience. Angelina had two aunts (white) who were abolitionists. The play is currently being performed at the Quintessence Theater in Philadelphia. Quite moving. It had such a response that they extended the run for another week.
  • Read the article about Black women activists found in the New York Times on February 15, 2020 under Trending: “Explore a National Celebration of Women’s Rights.” It describes events taking place in Upstate New York, the Midwest, the South stressing Georgia Gilmore who raised money for the Montgomery bus boycott; and the activist Aurelia Browder.
  • And in Washington and Philadelphia – View the Library of Congress exhibit, “Shall Not Be Denied: Women Fight for the Vote,” which runs through September 2020 and shows papers of Susan B Anthony and Mary Church Terrell who championed racial equality.

Song

So I’m gonna stand up
Take my people with me
Together we are going
To a brand, new home
Far across the river
Can you hear freedom calling?
Calling me to answer
Gonna keep on keepin’ on

© 2020 WATER: Women’s Alliance for Theology, Ethics, and Ritual, dneu@hers.com