170 years ago today, Harriet Tubman fled the plantation where she was enslaved, escaping to freedom in Philadelphia. Traveling at night so she would not be seen by slave catchers, she followed the North Star that guided her 90 miles toward the Mason-Dixon line. Once passing over that border from Maryland into Pennsylvania, she would be free.

The first person to help her was a white woman who was a Quaker. She sheltered her the first night and gave her instruction on where to go next. Tubman is quoted in a biography, saying, “When I found I had crossed that line, I looked at my hands to see if I was the same person. There was such a glory over everything; the sun came like gold through the trees, and over the fields, and I felt like I was in Heaven.”

Born into slavery, the five-foot woman named Araminta (‘Minty’) Ross grew to be strong and determined. She earned extra cash for her escape by working even longer than she was required to on the Poplar Neck Plantation in Dorchester County, Maryland. Because all her family and friends were still enslaved, she subsequently undertook 13 perilous missions back to the state to bring more than 70 people to freedom and help them find work. Her heroic story will now be told in a new Focus Features film due out in November. WATCH the trailer of Harriet below… (1849)

Having changed her name to Harriet Tubman, she traveled in extreme secrecy, staying with members of the Underground Railroad—to which the original Quaker woman belonged. The network provided safe houses and transportation for fugitive slaves. Tubman (who came to be known as ‘Moses’) “never lost a passenger.”

During the American Civil War, she served as an armed scout and spy for the Union Army, advising officers on how best to attack the South. In her later years, Tubman was an activist, with her friend Susan B. Anthony, in the struggle for women’s suffrage, and established schools that would educate freed men in South Carolina. After her death at age 90 or 91, she was buried in a ceremony with full military honors.

MORE Good News on this Day in history:

  • George Washington laid the first cornerstone of the Capitol building (1793)
  • Tiffany & Co. was founded in New York City (1837)
  • The New York Times published its first edition leaving sensationalism to the tabloids (1851)
  • Daniel David Palmer administered the first chiropractic adjustment (1895)
  • The Columbia Phonograph Broadcasting System made its broadcasting debut through its network of over 16 radio stations— later it took the name CBS (1927)
  • President Reagan announced the destruction of nuclear warheads by U.S. and USSR (1987)
  • Ted Turner, the innovative founder of the first cable news network (CNN), donated 1 billion dollars to the UN, to create the United Nations Foundation, a charity that works to help the world’s poor and preserve the environment (1997

Philippe Croizon disabled swimmer

Also on this day in 2010, 42 year-old Frenchman Philippe Croizon became the first quadruple amputee to swim across the English Channel. He trained for years, hoping to demonstrate the abilities of handicapped people, and finished the swim in under 14 hours. With the aid of paddle-like prosthetics attached to the stumps of his legs, the French swimmer completed his dream of swimming between five continents two years later.tonka-truck-web

And, on this day in 1946, Tonka Trucks was founded as Mound Metalcraft in a metal manufacturing plant in Minnesota. The three businessmen, Lynn Everett Baker, Avery Crounse, and Alvin Tesch changed their company’s name to Tonka Toys in 1955, using the Dakota Sioux word “Tanka” or Tonka, which means “great” or “big”. A Museum in Winifred, Montana has collected more than 3,000 of the metal dump trucks, bulldozers, cranes, and all variety of vehicles — all “Tonka tough, built to last,” and able to be handed down from one generation to the next.

On this day in 1948, Margaret Chase Smith became the first woman elected to the U.S. Senate. For more than three decades, she served as a role model for women aspiring to national politics; she was also the first woman elected to the U.S. House of Representatives and the first to have her name placed in nomination for the US Presidency of a major party.

Senator Smith bravely denounced the Communist witch hunt of McCarthyism at a time when others feared that speaking out would ruin their careers. On June 1, 1950, she delivered her courageous 15-minute “Declaration of Conscience” speech, defending every American’s “right to criticize…right to hold unpopular beliefs…right to protest.”

Breaking their paralysis of fear, six other moderate Senate Republicans signed onto her Declaration. She said McCarthyism had “debased“ the Senate to “the level of a forum of hate and character assassination… with the four horseman of… fear, ignorance, bigotry, and smear,” and Republicans had hurled unproved charges with reckless abandon.

[From her speech] “I think that it is high time that we remembered that the Constitution, as amended, speaks not only of the freedom of speech but also of trial by jury instead of trial by accusation. Whether it be a criminal prosecution in court or a character prosecution in the Senate, there is little practical distinction when the life of a person has been ruined… The exercise of these rights should not cost one single American citizen his reputation or his right to a livelihood nor should he be in danger of losing his reputation or livelihood merely because he happens to know someone who holds unpopular beliefs.”

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