Lifelines: The Black Book of Proverbs

Friday, February 12, 2010

Black History Month - Harriet Tubman and the Fugitive Slave Act

No matter how long the night, the day is sure to come. (Tunisia)

1793 - United States Congress passed the Fugitive Slave Act.

Harriet Tubman, who freed herself from slavery, continued to guide slaves to freedom despite the Fugitive Slave Act. According to this Act, all runaway slaves had to be brought back to their masters. The only change in Harriet's role as conductor of the Underground Railroad was to take her passengers to Canada where slave catchers could not reach them.

This Act declared that any Black person could be held anywhere in the US and returned to a slave master. Persons who had been free for many years could be held, and anyone could be sent to prison for not cooperating with the capture of “runaway” slaves. Many free Blacks were therefore returned to slavery. If they were captured, they could not defend themselves against the accusers, and they were not entitled to a court trial.

However, Harriet Tubman continued to risk her own freedom by returning again and again to the heart of slave territory. She singlehandedly rescued over seventy slaves, and never lost a “passenger”.

1909 - NAACP was founded in NY.

The NAACP was founded on February 12, 1909 in response to violence against Blacks, in particular the practice of lynching. The major focus of the organization was to guarantee for Blacks their constitutional rights such as equal protection under the law and the right to vote, and to end race prejudice. During the Depression of the 1930s, the NAACP also began to focus on economic justice and sought to outlaw job discrimination. The organization had its first Black president in 1934.

The NAACP secured .the landmark Brown versus the Board of Education (1954) judgment, which outlawed segregation in schools. The implementation of civil rights for Blacks has been slow, sometimes subtly undermined by those who claim to be liberal, and sometimes violently opposed by those who overtly profess racism. .

Today, the NAACP continues its advocacy on civil rights issues. The body also targets disparities in education, health care, voter empowerment, economic disparities, and the criminal justice system.

Also on this day in:

1890 - "Lift Every Voice and Sing" (lyrics written by James Weldon Johnson) was performed for the first time.

1934- Bill Russell, basketball player, was born.

1955 - Arsenio Hall was born.

1962 - The bus boycott opened in Macon, Georgia.

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When the occasion arises, there is a proverb to suit it. (Proverb from Rwanda and Burundi)

Welcome to this space where we can talk about proverbs that we can relate to (or not), and proverbs that make sense to us (or not). Most of all we can discuss how proverbs make us think about life and living. We can also share experiences of proverbs that have provided us with lifelines or just the chance to reflect.

Some of the proverbs here may also be found in "Lifelines: The Black Book of Proverbs", published by Random House and authored by Askhari Johnson Hodari and me. The foreword is written by Archbishop Desmond Tutu.

One of the unique features of our book is that we arranged the proverbs according to life cycle, in sections including, Birth, Childhood, Love, Marriage, and Intimacy, Challenge, and Death.

For more proverbs and for information on Lifelines: the Black Book of Proverbs, please visit us at