Elizabeth Freeman aka Mum Bett made history back in 1781 when she sued her slave owner for her freedom and won. Though she was illiterate most of her life, Freeman was inspired to pursue her freedom after hearing a reading of the Massachusetts Constitution which contained an article that stated:
All men are born free and equal, and have certain natural, essential, and unalienable rights; among which may be reckoned the right of enjoying and defending their lives and liberties; that of acquiring, possessing, and protecting property; in fine, that of seeking and obtaining their safety and happiness.
The details of where Freeman heard the constitution, like the details of most of her life, are unclear but what is clear is that after hearing it she decided nothing was going to stop her from achieving freedom. After winning her freedom and raining all on oppression’s parade, Bett officially adopted the name Elizabeth Freeman as a mark of her rightful place in society—a free woman.
Even before winning her freedom, Bett was fighting the system. After an altercation with her mistress Hannah Ashley, which resulted in Bett taking a blow from a shovel in order to protect a family member, the activist refused to cover her wound to shame the short-tempered slave owner. When visitors would ask about the wound Bett would tell them to ‘ask missus’ which always forced Ashley to either discuss how she threw a temper tantrum and injured one of her best slaves or awkwardly ignore the statement. Black women been getting white women together for centuries.
Freeman was invited back to the Ashley estate to work for a wage after the trial but she politely hit them with the ‘not in this lifetime’ and found work elsewhere. Freeman was also known for her superior skills as a nurse, midwife and nurse and spent the rest of her career as the governess and senior servant to Theodore Sedgewick’s, her attorney, family. Once her time at the Sedgewick estate was done Freeman and her daughter bought their own home and lived there until her passing.
A famed scholar and activist claimed she was his great grandson through her marriage to his great grandfather Jack Burghardt. If the name Burghardt sounds familiar it’s because it’s what the ‘B’ in W.E.B. Dubois stands for. Yep! W.E.B. Dubois claimed to be Freeman’s great grandson. Though research has shown it was more likely Freeman’s daughter who married Jack Burghardt there is believed to be a true familial connection between the two phenomenal activists.
As you go about your day, fighting the patriarchy and trying to stay fantastic in spite of all the nonsense remember this quote from the freedom fighter herself:
Any time, any time while I was a slave, if one minute’s freedom had been offered to me, and I had been told I must die at the end of that minute, I would have taken it—just to stand one minute on God’s earth a free woman.