Born a slave – although the year of her birth is uncertain, and may be as early as 1820 – Harriet Tubman would become one of the foremost activists against slavery. From her birthplace in Maryland, she escaped from her owners in 1849 while in Philadelphia, and immediately became active in the Underground Railroad, helping other slaves to escape as she had. Believing her mission to be divinely inspired, she was nicknamed ‘Moses’, since like she led escaped slaves to a promised land.
In 1858, she assisted John Brown in his infamous raid on Harper’s Ferry – Brown found her so invaluable, he nicknamed her ‘General Tubman’. In her later years, Tubman was also a prominent Suffragette in her later years, and assisted the Union Army as a scout during the American Civil War. She died in 1913, in her nineties.
It is the central event of Christianity: Jesus Christ surrendered to the Romans, was briefly tried by Pontius Pilate, and sent to be crucified. Once up on the cross, he died in an unusually short time (crucifixion is a slow and painful death). In his last words, he called on his heavenly father, saying “Eli Eli lama sabachthani?” (in English “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”). (At least, he did according to the Gospels of Mark and Matthew – John and Luke each tell different stories.)
When the Romans came by to break the legs of the crucified (a measure that hastens death), they discovered that Jesus was already dead. He was taken down and buried, rising from the dead on the third day (somewhat undermining the “last words” thing, but he’s the Son of God. Different rules apply.)
Today, these events are commemorated by the eating of chocolate (not introduced to Europe, Asia and Africa until 14 centuries later) delivered by a rabbit (because… I have no idea why).
Solomon, legendarily the wisest man in all of antiquity, was the son of King David of Israel. He ascended to the throne after his mother Bathsheba and the prophet Nathan prevailed upon the elderly (and possibly senile by that time) David to name him heir ahead of his brother Adonijah (who was the heir-apparent). Adonijah, for some reason, reacted badly to this, and led a brief rebellion that ended in his arrest and execution.
Solomon would go on to write the soft porn classic “The Song of Songs”, to oversee the building of the Temple in Jerusalem, to found the Freemasons, and to take a total of 700 wives (and 300 concubines), suggesting that his legendary wisdom was exceeded only by his horniness (and love of goat skin aprons and funny handshakes). He ruled for 41 years, dying at the age of 80 and being succeeded by his son Rehoboam.
A noted thinker, journalist and orator, Marcus Garvey was a Jamaican born politician who is best known for his espousal of the idea that the descendents of the African Diaspora (i.e. the negro slaves brought to the Americas) should return to Africa. He was also the originator of the Pan-African ideal: the idea that Africans should set aside their tribal differences and work as one united people to create an Africa that was the equal – and no longer the possession – of Europe.
Needless to say, these ideas were controversial – to say the least – in Garvey’s own time, and are scarcely less so today. Garvey died in 1940, his great vision largely still unrealised, but he remains a figure of inspiration to Africans everywhere. Notably, he is considered to be a prophet (possibly even the reincarnation of John the Baptist) by the Rastafari church.
Nat Turner’s first vision was a striking one: the Spirit appeared to him and told him to take up Christ’s cross and suffer in his place, metaphorically. Turner interpreted this as a call to arms, and began laying plans for a rebellion (which would eventually bear fruit in August of 1831).
For the meantime, Turner continued to work in slavery, building his forces and biding his time, and growing ever stronger in his faith. How much he suffered we can only guess at, but based on the events of the slave rebellion he led, it must have been a great amount.
No doubt you’re familiar with the story: during the 40 years that the Israelites spent wandering in the Sinai desert between fleeing Egypt and entering Canaan, they encamped for some time at the foot of Mt Sinai.
At one point, God summoned Moses, his chosen prophet and the leader of the Israelites, to the top of the mountain, and here he gave him stone tablets upon which were inscribed the Ten Commandments – one of the world’s earliest legal codes that is still known to us.
When Moses carried the tablets back down the mountain, he was sufficiently enraged by the conduct and reaction of his fellow Israelites that he broke them half. Fortunately, God had made a backup copy, and Moses was able to once more bring the tablets of the Ten Commandments.