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
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
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
"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,
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
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
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Why did the children hide?
What did the overseer plan to
How did Harriet react?
What happened to her?
Did Harriet ever fully recover? Use
the text to support your answer.
For Discussion . . .
How do you think the children felt
as they witnessed this scene?
Based on her actions, what kind of
person do you think Harriet was?
How do you think you would have reacted
if you had been in Harriet's shoes?
Were the master and overseer right
or wrong? Explain your answer.
For Further Research . .
Use these search engines and directories to facilitate your search:
When did slavery begin in the United
Was the United States the first country
to allow slavery?
When did slavery end in the United
Do any countries still allow slavery
Are all slaves treated harshly?
Have an idea you want to
E-mail it to
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