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Harriet's Freedom Journeys

Harriets Freedom Journeys
Harriet's Freedom Journeys

(Leader: Invite the group to join you in singing the chorus of "Follow the Drinking Gourd." Teach the words and tune, if needed. Tell them that any time during the story they hear you start to sing, they should join in.)

Harriet Tubman knew that no person should be enslaved. She knew it was wrong for one person to own another person as if they were a cow or a horse or a wagon. She knew it was wrong when she was about seven years old, and her mistress whipped her over and over again if the baby cried at night. She knew it was wrong for one person to work in the fields or the house all day long without getting any pay. She knew it was wrong that owners broke families apart, selling children away from their parents, and wives away from their husbands.

Often Harriet thought about freedom. Sometimes at night she would dream that she was flying. In her dream she would come to a big wall that she couldn't pass. On the other side of the wall there were women wearing white, reaching up their arms to help pull her over it.

(Leader: Sing the chorus of "Follow the Drinking Gourd." Encourage the children to join in.)

When Harriet was a young woman she learned that she and three of her brothers were about to be sold to a plantation owner in the deep South. She would never see her family or her husband again. It was time for Harriet to escape from slavery. She knew escaping was very dangerous. White people would hire slave catchers to chase after the people who escaped. The slave catchers’ brought dogs to sniff where people had escaped and find them. If you were caught, you would be cruelly punished, perhaps even killed. But Harriet knew she must be free.

She made an escape plan with her brothers. She did not even tell her husband, John Tubman. He was a free African American and Harriet knew he did not want to leave their home. Harriet thought he might try to stop her. While he was sleeping, she slipped out of their home at night and met her brothers. As they walked through the woods her brothers became very afraid. It was dangerous to try to escape slavery. Finally her brothers insisted they all go back. Harriet tried to encourage them to keep going, but they refused and brought Harriet back home with them.

Harriet knew now she had to escape by herself. She could not wait any longer or she would be sold. Harriet's father, Ben, had taught her all about the woods. She knew which plants and berries were safe to eat. She knew how to walk silently, without making a sound. She knew how to imitate bird calls. She knew that moss only grows on the north side of trees and how to feel for the moss to help guide her on cloudy nights. Most of all, she knew how to find the Big Dipper, and the North Star so she could follow it north to freedom.

(Leader: Sing the chorus of "Follow the Drinking Gourd." Encourage the children to join in.)

Walking through the woods at night, Harriet only knew one place to go for help: to the home of a white woman who was an abolitionist—someone who believed slavery was terribly wrong and who worked to end slavery. This woman was part of the Underground Railroad.

The Underground Railroad wasn’t a real train. It was a network of people in the South and the North, men, women, black, and white, who worked together to help enslaved people escape to freedom. Their homes were the "stations" on the Underground Railroad, hiding places where people could safely rest and eat while traveling north.

Harriet traveled from station to station, walking for hundreds of miles until she finally reached a place without slavery where she could live free.

Harriet was free! She could choose whom she would work for and she would be paid. No one could ever whip her again. She could come and go as she pleased. She could set up a comfortable life for herself and live happily and safely for the rest of her life. But Harriet could not be comfortable knowing there were still more than two million people  enslaved. She knew slavery was wrong. She knew she had to go back and help lead other people to freedom—no matter how dangerous it was. Harriet became a conductor on the Underground Railroad.

Harriet Tubman went back to the South again and again. She led more than 300 people out of slavery to freedom by following the North Star and walking to safe stations on the Underground Railroad. Pictures of Harriet were posted throughout the South, where she was wanted as a criminal. She carefully disguised herself so she would not be recognized. Sometimes she dressed in a man's suit. Sometimes she dressed like an old woman. The people she helped to flee hid in barns, in secret rooms, and in churches. They walked, they took trains, or rode in horse-drawn wagons, hidden under blankets or sacks of potatoes and onions.

(Leader: Sing the chorus of "Follow the Drinking Gourd." Encourage the children to join in.)

People would get scared along the Underground Railroad and wonder if they should turn back. They were exhausted and often near starvation. Tubman encouraged them to keep on going to freedom in the North. To keep babies from crying or making noises that might expose a hiding place, Harriet gave them medicine which made them sleep. Sometimes she carried babies them in a cloth bag tied around her waist. Harriet Tubman risked her life over and over again because she knew that no adult or child should ever have to be enslaved.

Then the Civil War came. When it had ended, slavery was over in the United States. The law had been changed. No longer could any person own another person. Harriet lived for many years after that, working for the rest of her life to help the people who had been enslaved begin their lives in freedom. Once, she gave a speech, where she said, "I was a 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."

(Leader: Sing the chorus of "Follow the Drinking Gourd." Encourage the children to join in.)

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