Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of March 24, 2003
From ashes came new lives . . .
By MSGR. JIM LISANTE
Historical figures are just too remote. Many wonderful people have contributed to the world, but unless something singles them out, we don't pay all that much attention. Recently, I came across profiles of some remarkable people. Two of them, in particular caught my eye. I think it was because despite their difficult, even desperate, early years, they managed to create lives of hope, not only for themselves, but for others.
Harriet Tubman, called The Moses of her people, was born into slavery on a Chesapeake Bay plantation in 1820. As a teenager, she watched the whipping of a fellow slave. She rose to defend him and she herself was beaten into unconsciousness.
The incident gave her the determination to risk her life for freedom. Unable to read or write, but guided by the North Star, she escaped to Pennsylvania. There she joined other folks who were resolved to abolish slavery. Later, as one of the founders of the Underground Railroad, she led hundreds of slaves to liberty. During the Civil War she acted as a spy and a scout for the Union forces. During one daring expedition she freed over 700 slaves.
One of the most eloquent tributes to her came from another American hero, Frederick Douglass. He wrote to Harriet Tubman: "The difference between us is very marked. Most that I have done in the service of our cause has been in public and I have received encouragement. . . . You have laboured in a private way. You have wrought in the night. The most that you have done has been witnessed by a few trembling, scared and footsore bondmen whom you have led out of the house of bondage and whose heartfelt 'God bless you' has been your only reward."
A second woman who used her talents to make a difference for herself and for others was Mahalia Jackson. An orphan at six, forced to quit school in Grade 8 to go to work, she held a succession of menial jobs. Cook, laundress, hotel maid - she did whatever she had to keep going.
But Mahalia Jackson had one great joy and passion: singing. Though she never learned to read music, she joined her church choir. After she left her hometown of New Orleans for Chicago, she became a soloist for the Greater Salem Baptist Church, then travelled the U.S. with a Gospel crusade where she attracted attention for such songs as, He's Got the Whole World in His Hands and I Can Put My Trust in Jesus. Eventually, her records would sell millions of copies.
She described the real force behind her beautiful music like this, "I have hopes that my singing will break down some of the hate and fear that divide the white and black people in this country."
Both Mahalia Jackson and Harriet Tubman had their own unique way of singing the glory of God. Each woman knew suffering and sadness. But neither would allow the miserable realities of her life, nor natural feelings of discouragement, to stop her from making the most of her life.
I can't pretend to imagine what it took for these brave women to succeed. But I do know that there's just too much good that has yet to be done. Mahalia Jackson and Harriet Tubman showed us two ways to go out and do it.
(For a free copy of the Christopher News Note, Being a Good Neighbour, write: The Christophers, 12 East 48 St., New York, NY, 10017; or e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.)
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