Saturday, November 9, 2019

Harriet—The Woman Who Trusted God Without Question

Rarely do we meet a courageous Christian hero in secular movies today. Christians instead are often portrayed in a negative light. Harriet is a refreshing contrast. Featuring Verve Records’ s talented artist, Cynthia Erivo, this excellent, skillfully written, adroitly directed, powerfully acted, and beautifully produced Focus Features movie begins as a dramatization of her life as a slave but then focuses on her run for freedom a hundred miles into Pennsylvania from the slave state of Maryland. But then she is not satisfied to live simply as a free woman, but she is led by the Lord to free hundreds[1] of other slaves including her own relatives. She is portrayed as a devout Christian who is guided by the Lord through the woods and farmlands by visions of what could happen. Her followers must wait while she listens as a prophet to the direct leading of her Lord. One marvelous scene is where a reward-seeking free Black man (Walter, winsomely played by Henry Hunter Hall) witnesses her trance and, thereby, is transformed. He sees that God speaks directly to her and asks, could she introduce him to the Lord? The anti-slavery society in Philadelphia of Blacks and Whites appears almost idyllic until Harriet challenges them, when faced with the devastating threat of the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, that while cautious they must not become passive and comfortable in their luxury homes but must never forget to seek actively to liberate more slaves. Harriet’s sense of community superseded her own comfort. Nevertheless, despite the danger, she lived into her 90s and did not lose one person that she conducted North.[2]
The slave owners are not presented in a positive light, especially as they compare slaves to pigs. As Gideon Brodess, her slave owner was taught, one might become attached to a slave (or “pig”), but, when it comes time to remove the piglets and kill the pig, then understandably one will change one’s attitude.
We may think the 1800s have left us behind but 200 years later some White Americans still treat some Black Americans as second-class citizens. Thus, this is a timely movie.
Harriet Tubman is portrayed as someone who is not double-minded. What God wants her to do, she does. She acts and does not question God’s leading, no matter how difficult it would appear. When God speaks, she acts without question. They call her “Moses,” because like Moses she met with God and led her people out of slavery. The Lord told her, as he told Moses, “I have observed the misery of my people who are in Egypt; I have heard their cry on account of their taskmasters. Indeed, I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them from the Egyptians” (Exod 3:7-8 NRSV). Moses brought them out as a nation. Harriet brought them out one by one and group by group.
Harriet is a worthwhile movie to see and support especially in times when we still have racial incidents.

[1] At the end the film notes that Harriet Tubman personally escorted out 75 slaves but as a scout with the union army’s Black Regiment, together they freed 750. Collier’s Encyclopedia 22 (1987) writes that over ten years she personally escorted more than 200 runaway slaves to the North. She “never lost any of her charges” (505).
[2] One escaping slave reported, “I’s hoping and praying all the time I meets up with that Harriet Tubman woman. She the colored woman what takes slaves to Canada. She always travels the underground railroad, they calls it, travels at night and hides out in the day. She sure sneaks them out the South, and I thinks she’s the brave woman,” the Slave Narrative Collection of the Federal Writers’ Project, ed. B. A. Botkin, Lay My Burden Down: A Folk History of Slavery (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1958), 198

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