We need to pay homage to Black women every day, but during Women’s History Month we can focus on important trailblazers from the past – and the present – who showed us what “abolition” really means.
Harriet Tubman was many things, but her fight to abolish the slavery that preceded today’s prison system is extraordinary. She said, “Slavery is the next thing to hell,” and made it clear: “I’ve got a right to … Death or Liberty – one or the other I mean to have. No one will take me back alive.”
Frances Ellen Watkins Harper was a suffragist, abolitionist, and a poet who was born free. However, the injustices of slavery were too much for her to be silent about. One of her writings still rings true: “Slavery … is dead, but the spirit which animated it still lives.”
Abolitionist and suffragist Sojourner Truth said, “It is hard for the old slaveholding spirit to die, but die it must.” That spirit, like the one Frances E. W. Harper described, is alive in the institutions around us. She escaped to freedom, but still fought for the enslaved like we all should.
Angela Davis helps draw the connections from slavery to mass incarceration. Her definitive work calls for the abolition of the prison industrial complex. She teaches us we need “new terrains of justice where the prison no longer serves as our major anchor.”
Organizer and author Mariame Kaba has spent decades in the abolitionist movement. She describes abolition as work “to bring into being a world where we have everything that we need to survive and thrive.”