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Celebrating Black History Month: Harriet Tubman


There was one or two things I had a right to,
liberty or death; if I could not have one, I would
have the other; for no man should take me alive. . . .


Reading Comprehension: Forever Scarred (Elementary)
Historical fiction based on an incident that took place during Harriet Tubman's teen years
The children crouched behind the door. They did not anyone to see them.

Mary had not picked as much cotton as their master expected. She was sick. She was coughing. Her face was flushed with fever. She should have been in bed. But the master did not care.

Mary had not picked enough cotton. She would be beaten.

An overseer marched toward Mary's cabin. In his hand, he carried a heavy strap.

He planned to beat Mary without mercy. She had not picked enough cotton. She would be made an example. He would show the other slaves what happened to lazy slaves.

Mary might die. He did not care. He was going to beat her. He would hit her again and again with the strap. Each time it would land with a sick thud.

Mary would cry. She would scream. He did not care. He would rip the skin off her back.

But as the overseer got near the cabin, he saw someone in the door. It was a young field hand name Harriet. She was a good worker. She did not need to be beaten.

"Move, girl," he ordered. "You don't need to be here."

Harriet did not move.

"I told you to move, girl," he said again. "Get out of my way – unless you want to taste the strap."

Harriet crossed her arms. She was taking a big risk. She knew he would punish her. But she had to protect Mary.

"No," she told the overseer. "I won't move. You go. Go away and leave Mary alone. She is sick."

The overseer's face turned red. Then it turned purple. He was angry. Very angry.

"Why you, you--" he sputtered. "I'll teach you a lesson. I will."

He raised the strap high in the air. Before he brought it down on young Harriet, she fell.

The children screamed as blood gushed from a deep cut on her forehead. A large rock lay on the floor beside her.

Behind the overseer, the master appeared.

"No slave of mine disobeys," he said. "Get her out of here."

The children dragged Harriet outside. There they got other slaves to help carry her to her own cabin.

Harriet did not move. Harriet did not talk. Harriet just lay in bed.

Every day, Harriet's mother, her brothers, and her sisters worked in the fields. Each night they sat by her bed. They thought Harriet was going to die.

Days turned to weeks. Finally, Harriet began to get better. She drank a little water. She ate a little food. She sat up. She stood. She walked. She went back to work in the fields.

But Harriet's life had been changed forever.

When her master struck her with that rock, he injured her brain. For the rest of her life, she would have headaches. For the rest of her life, she would "black out" with no warning.

Harriet would one day escape slavery. But the scars of slavery would be with her forever.


Do You Know These Words?
If you are not sure of the meanings of the following content words, click here to look them online.

crouch
escape
example
fever
headache

obscurity
master
mercy
overseer
slavery
sputtered


Comprehension Questions

For Discussion . . .

For Further Research . . .
Investigate slavery

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