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What I Learned From Susan Burton, a Modern-Day Harriet Tubman

Reading her life story will change the way you view the world.
By Michelle Alexander

May 10, 2917  12:56 PM

Activist and author Susan Burton. (Courtesy of The New Press)

There once lived a woman with deep brown skin and black hair who freed people from bondage and ushered them to safety. She welcomed them to safe homes and offered food, shelter, and help reuniting with family and loved ones. She met them wherever they could be found and organized countless others to provide support and aid in various forms so they would not be recaptured and sent back to captivity. This courageous soul knew well the fear and desperation of each one who came to her, seeing in their eyes all the pain she felt years ago when she had been abused and shackled and finally began her own journey to freedom. Deep in the night she cried out to God begging for strength, and when she woke she began her work all over again, opening doors, planning escape routes, and holding hands with mothers as they wept for children they hoped to see again. A relentless advocate for justice, this woman was a proud abolitionist and freedom fighter. She told the unadorned truth to whomever would listen and spent countless hours training and organizing others, determined to grow the movement. She served not only as a profound inspiration to those who knew her but also as a real gateway to freedom for hundreds whose lives were changed forever by her heroism.

This essay is adapted from the foreword to Becoming Ms. Burton: From Prison to Recovery to Leading the Fight for Incarcerated Women by Susan Burton and Cari Lynn (The New Press, April 2017) and published with the permission of the author and The New Press.

Some people know this woman by the name Harriet Tubman. I know her as Susan. …read entire forward here.

Read the Interview

“Life has took me on a journey, and through much of that journey, I didn’t feel whole, connected and grounded,” said Susan Burton. – RICHARD BOUHET/AFP/Getty Images