“Harriet Tubman is My Aunt” One Buffalonian Reveals His Own Black History

by Kent Olden

I have a secret. It’s something that I’ve been sitting on my entire life. Sometimes it manages to slip through the cracks and into the earshot of an over zealous passerby, leaving me to get rained on by a deluge of what I considered to be very invasive questions: “Have you always known???” or “What does it feel like???” or “Do you have pictures???” or, my personal favorite “WHY HAVEN’T YOU  MENTIONED THIS BEFORE?!” Yes, I have always known, and because of that, it feels quite normal to me. Yes, there are pictures in albums at home. 

Why haven’t I mentioned it before? Well, as odd as it may sound, I never really thought there was much to mention. In my head, I was always just a regular person living a regular life. However, now that I have my own children, I have come to understand the importance of the legacy that my family must maintain simply by being born into this bloodline.

My name is Kent Olden, and Harriet Tubman is my aunt.

-The Family Tree-

Benjamin and Harriet Ross raised their nine children on the plantation of Anthony Thompson in 19th century Maryland. The fifth of those children, Araminta (who later changed her name to Harriet in honor of her mother), went on to be known as “the Moses of Her People,” as she returned to the slavery-ridden south to free those loved ones she left behind after successfully escaping herself. Later settlingin Auburn, New York, the story of Harriet Tubman lives on forever. Another of Ben and Rit’s offspring, however, was Robert Benjamin Ross. Fleeing from the plantation of Edward Brodess (Thompson’s stepson who inherited the senior Harriet and her children when he turned 21) with the help of his sister Minty (as they affectionately called Araminta), Robert later changed his name to John Henry Stewart in an effort to throw off the authorities that subsequently went searching for Brodess’s runaway slaves. After making the successful trek north, John and his wife had a daughter. They named her Gertrude. Once Gertrude became a woman herself, she gave birth to a son that she named Harold. After growing up to become the first Black graduate of the University at Buffalo School of Pharmacy, Harold married his sweetheart, Gladyce, and they had three children, which included a daughter, Arlene. When she was 22, Arlene gave birth to her only child, a son, whom she named Kent. Kent, himself, had four children: Kyle, Kendra, Kameron, and me. Tracking back through the generations, we see that my great-great-great grandfather was Harriet Tubman’s brother. That is the first time in over 30 years of life that I have ever said that without being forced to, and it feels great.

Now, with a new generation added to the family tree (my daughters, Kendall and Khloe, and Kendra’s son, Tyler), it has become our charge to uphold the legacy of our family as it continues to thrive with our children. Just as my grandmother taught me, my children will learn the sacrifices that those that came before them made just so they could be.

I will teach them that anything worth having is worth fighting for. They will be proud to say that their great-great grandfather was the first Black graduate of UB’s School of Pharmacy, or that their  great grandmother established the Harriet Tubman 300s to educate Western New York on the importance of Buffalo as a stop on the Underground Railroad, or that daddy is a Morehouse Man who is active in a number of civic organizations, both local and national.     But above all this, may they  ever be proud to say “Yes. Harriet Tubman IS my aunt.”

As we celebrate Black History Month in Buffalo, just as I do with my daughters, I encourage each and every one of us to take a moment to remember what brought us to where we are.

Remember those who paved the way so that we live out the dreams of those who never thought this life was possible. As we stand united, we must always remember to never let our  legacies die, for if we let them die with us, future generations will never know the power that lies within them. 

As my aunt said, “Dead men don’t tell no tales…

Let your legacy live so that you may live also.!