On the heels of Black History Month, and now as we are celebrating Women’s History Month, wouldn’t it be great if a new book came out about a black woman?
As we begin to see more and more that African Americans were, from the beginning, active participants in the search for life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, wouldn’t it be great if this new book ran along those along lines?
Wouldn’t it also be great if a new kind of a hero emerged in this book, a heroine who touched Presidential power in ways no one else could, and then made a courageous dash for freedom?
She traces the story of Ona (“Oney”) Judge, a mixed race enslaved lady who was a personal assistant to Martha Washington. Although Judge had to stay in the shadows in her public roles, she stood as close to the highest power in the land as any person of color could in those times.
This story takes place in Mount Vernon, Philadelphia and New York. There is however a small Alexandria connection. Ona’s father, Andrew Judge, lived in Alexandria after obtaining his freedom.
Because planters and slave owners kept or tried to keep their “servants” illiterate, there is a scarcity of oral histories from enslaved humans. As one can imagine, runaway slaves were also reluctant to talk for fear of being captured and returned to captivity or exposing links along the Underground Railroad.
One of things we sometimes hear about some enslaved humans is that they were “treated well” by their masters. The implication is because of this “higher status,” they should have been grateful and remained loyal. This book serves as a reminder how wrong such beliefs are.
As Martha Washington’s personal aide, Judge probably was “treated well” at times. But like the patriots, Judge wanted her freedom too. Her daring escape from George and Martha Washington is a story worth reading and told very well in this book.
And there’s one last terrific bit of great timing with this book. This weekend is the grand opening of the Harriet Tubman National Park in southern Maryland. Tubman soars high in our minds, but she, too, was surely inspired by courageous resisters such as Ona Judge, who blazed a trail to freedom.