“Harriet Tubman as the Black Moses”
“Harriet Tubman” is one of the best movies about Black agency and freedom and the role of faith in the struggle for justice and emancipation in the United States. Harriet Tubman, the great abolitionist, listened to the voice of God and she acted and followed the road toward freedom, as planned by God himself. Slavery is the antithesis of freedom, and chattel slavery is also the antithesis of the will of God for human beings. Tubman grasped both truths and understood that it was the will of God for people to be born and live free; as a result, she acted on behalf of God and in the best interest of enslaved Africans. She was committed to their freedom because she knew God was also committed to the liberation of the oppressed and the enslaved.
There are two revolutionary stories of freedom in the Bible. One is supernatural; the other is natural. Both are equally important and necessary for human beings to live in peace and harmony with God and each other. One is not more important than the other; supernatural freedom is as indispensable as existential freedom. Existential freedom does not have more value than spiritual freedom. Human beings need both freedoms in order to live according to what God has purposed for them and reach their full potential in life.
Both supernatural and natural freedom are the collaborative work of God and human beings. In the Christian understanding of supernatural or spiritual freedom, in and through Jesus Christ, God the Greatest Freedom Fighter, rescues people from both the dominion of sin and the consequences of sin. Christians call this act of God “salvation” or “liberation.”
The second great story of freedom in the Bible is the Exodus, in which God radically intervened in human history and through a Hebrew freedom fighter called Moses to deliver the Hebrews out of the Egyptian slavery and pharaonic imperialism. In the Hebrew Bible, the story of the Exodus is the dominant theme and most important narrative in God’s intervention in global history for the sake of human liberation and to crush down human oppression and abuse.
Everywhere slavery exists, human beings are not free; where slavery triumphs, the image of God in human beings is challenged and human dignity is depreciated. God is the Greatest Abolitionist in human history who has willed that nobody shall live in bondage and oppression. Human liberation is a divine commitment.
“Letter from Frederick Douglass to Harriet Tubman, 1868
Rochester, August 29, 1868
Dear Harriet: I am glad to know that the story of your eventful life has been written by a kind lady, and that the same is soon to be published. You ask for what you do not need when you call upon me for a word of commendation. I need such words from you far more than you can need them from me, especially where your superior labors and devotion to the cause of the lately enslaved of our land are known as I know them. The difference between us is very marked. Most that I have done and suffered in the service of our cause has been in public, and I have received much encouragement at every step of the way. You, on the other hand, have labored in a private way. I have wrought in the day – you in the night. I have had the applause of the crowd and the satisfaction that comes of being approved by the multitude, while the most that you have done has been witnessed by a few trembling, scarred, and foot-sore bondmen and women, whom you have led out of the house of bondage, and whose heartfelt, “God bless you,” has been your only reward. The midnight sky and the silent stars have been the witnesses of your devotion to freedom and of your heroism. Excepting John Brown – of sacred memory – I know of no one who has willingly encountered more perils and hardships to serve our enslaved people than you have. Much that you have done would seem improbable to those who do not know you as I know you. It is to me a great pleasure and a great privilege to bear testimony for your character and your works, and to say to those to whom you may come, that I regard you in every way truthful and trustworthy.
Source: Scenes in the Life of Harriet Tubman by Sarah Hopkins Bradford.
Letter from Frederick Douglass to Harriet Tubman, 1868