Tubman died 50 years after emancipation but lived 43 years before it. And part of her livingness was the fact of a community of Africans who not only remembered Africa, but behaved Africa.
Grandpop Randle had been getting a physical in a Philadelphia draft office when the armistice was signed ending World War I in 1918. Two of his sisters died in the great flu epidemic of the same year. My paternal grandmother was one of the refugees from the South in the Great Migration, coming to Philadelphia shortly after my father's birth in 1922. Her first husband had been blinded by a bad batch of moonshine.
This year is the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation. If I had known better, I would have asked Grandmom Julia, who was from Greenville, S.C., what they felt like fifty years later in 1913. If I had known better, I would have asked Pop-Pop what he thought about graduating from college the same year as Harriet Tubman's death. If I had known better, I would have asked if someone knew where Great-grandfather John Thomas Gibson, who was 14 at the time, had been when President Lincoln was killed in 1865.
Tubman died 50 years after emancipation but lived 43 years before it. And part of her livingness was the fact of a community of Africans who not only remembered Africa, but behaved Africa. Her own grandmother, called Melody, was Ashante from the area now known as Ghana. It is not unlikely that Tubman heard the Ashante language and very likely that she knew something of African spiritual and healing ways.
It is these thoughts and imaginings that drew me to superimpose the symbol of Sankofa over the image of Harriet Tubman. Sankofa, the backward-looking bird is an Adinkra symbol of the Ashante people. It means "Go back and get it" or "It is not wrong to go back for that which you have forgotten."
With the image of Sankofa over Tubman I take the liberty of invoking a consciousness to link myself to the past as she might have known it and to a future she could not foresee. And I pray for their guidance in the here and now of my own existence.