Around here, we take zombies seriously. They are the metaphor of our generation, after all. Whether they are shamblers or walkers or completely mutated monsters, we know they are headed for our homes, MAGA hats jauntily askew on their heads. Heads we will be aiming for, by the way. While we maintain real bug-out bags of essentials (you don’t want to see me without coconut oil and coffee), we also keep lists in our heads of all the Black women we’d have on our bug-out squads — the absolute top hitters, thinkers, and tinkerers of time and space. Being that kind of nerd, my list is mostly historical figures from the 1800 and 1900s, and I think you’ll agree — these are women you want on your side when the hordes come.
Team Lead/Mastermind: Harriet Tubman
I thought about this position a long time, it is the most important role to fill (next to the team cook) and I just kept coming back to Queen Moses over and over again. For strength, style, smarts, skills, there’s no documented woman of this era who can out do her. Harriet doesn’t deserve to be on the $20 bill, she deserves to be on *all* the bills. All the coins. All the statues. All.Of.It.
I don’t have to give you her bio, you know who she is. But I’ll take one incident from her life: the Combahee River Raid. During the Civil War, over 2 days, she led a military force of 300 men, many former slaves themselves, deep into enemy territory, dodging mines and occasional artillery fire. She picked up 750 slaves in 2 days and destroyed miles of plantation. They all got out. There are few people I would trust to lead me into hell and back out the other side. Harriet is one of those people.
Weapons Expert: Zoe Washburne
Now now. I know Mrs. Washburne is a future character, not a past real-life woman. I don’t care. She is the truth, the way, and the light and I want her on my team, all day, every day, regardless of the laws of time and space. You can’t take her from me. IDC. IDFC.
Zoe is good with guns. Big ones. Small ones. But she’s not a random machine gun nut. She’s judicious with her bullets, which will be a big deal in a world with limited supply. She’s also smart, savvy in a fight, and can easily take over for the Team Lead in case of incapacity. I also say she probably has skills with improvised explosives, traps, all manner of things that can kill a grip of zombies quite dead. Plus, if I get bit and someone has to put me down, taking a bullet from Zoe Washburne wouldn’t be that bad of a way to go.
Brawler: (Stagecoach) Mary Fields
While all plans are to kill the shamblers at a distance, there will be times when a fast-one breaks through and threatens your supplies. For such a situation, I’m looking to Mary Fields to bring her famous hands into play and put a body down.
Mary Fields was born into slavery in Tennessee. After emancipation, she traveled around and eventually landed in Cascade Montana as the forewoman for a group of Catholic nuns. During that time, she defended a wagon full of supplies from a pack of wolves over night alone, with her revolver and her fists. According to the local paper, She broke more noses than any other person in central Montana.
Working for nuns was at some odds with Mary’s preference for whiskey and fist-fights, so eventually she left their service and at the age of 60 got a job for the Post Office — the first Black person so employed, this is when she became Stagecoach Mary — by being the fastest to yoke a team of horses to a wagon. By 70, she’d left the Post Office and opened a laundry, which left her with plenty of time to sit in the bar and drink.
At the age of 72 she knocked a man’s teeth out for failing to pay his bill. She enjoyed kicking his ass so much that she then forgave him the bill. She was colorful, violent, and often drunk. She’s on the team.
Medic: Mary Seacole
You need a medic, that’s obvious. Bones get broken. You’re all carrying around machetes, so someone’s gonna lose a finger. And somebody has to make the call on whether a team member is infected or not. For this spot, I’d rely on Mary Seacole, the only non-American on my list.
She was born and raised in Jamaica in the early 1800s. (Jamaica come through!!) She learned herbal medicines and basic nursing from her Creole mother and helped run the family boarding house for British soldiers in Kingston. After marrying and losing her husband, Mary took to the road, founding a hotel in Panama. What started as a hotel quickly became a hospital for westerners sick from cholera. Later, she started another hotel/hospice station in the Crimea, serving British soldiers in the area who were fighting the Russians in the Crimean War. She served alongside another, more famous, white woman: Florence Nightingale.
But while Flo was all cleanliness and austerity, Mary was all comfort and happiness. Her restaurant stayed full. After the war (despite Flo’s attempts to have her good works sabotaged) the surviving soldiers were so thankful that they set up a pension fund for Mary, so that she eventually died comfortably. She was a travel writer, a sharp business woman, and a person who understood that health is made up of both a sound body and a happy heart. She’s the one who’ll hand you a good slice of pie before telling you she’s gonna have to amputate that foot. It’ll hurt, but she’ll have you back on your good foot quick, and make you oxtail for dinner.
Tech: Sara Goode
This was a hard one because there are so few *documented* Black women engineers, tinkerers, and inventors from the past. We know we invented stuff, but the credit is so frequently handed elsewhere, or simply not recorded at all. Through the haze of history, a few women do stand out, and one of them is perfect for my team: Sara Goode.
Sara was born free in Toledo, OH in 1860. At different points in her childhood, her family claimed to be from Spain rather than admit to their multiracial background. By the 1880s, she’d moved to Chicago and gotten married. She was raised in the furniture trade, and her new husband was a housing woodworker, so it is little wonder that her documented invention, for which she received a patent, was for a fold-up bed that could be used as a desk during the day. True Ikea style in the 1880s.
That’s her only documented invention, but think about it: old girl understood wood, construction, and conserving space. Imagine the hideout she could construct. Think about her hidden passageways. The work she could put into a folding backpack that could hold all your necessities, your weapons, and fold out to a field kitchen with one flick of a switch. Plus she was handy with a hammer, so she’s good to have at your side with the shamblers come through. I bet you she’d be murder with a nail gun.
Mascot/Spy: Josephine Baker
This is a deeply disrespected role, but surviving and thriving during the zombie apocalypse can’t all be blood and tears. There has to be someone around who reminds you of what you’re fighting for. And no one knew #BlackGirMagic like Josephine. Josephine could slay before that was a thing one did. She was fierce.
You know the story. She was born in St. Louis and raised on the street, singing on street corners to make money. Eventually, she joined a traveling vaudeville show that took her to New York City during the height of the Harlem Renaissance. But Josephine was too trill for NYC and sailed off to Paris, where she made her home for the rest of her life. She was entertaining, funny and sexy in equal parts, and she could pack a hall anywhere in Europe.
And she was a spy. Josephine probably wouldn’t be much good during a protracted battle when the undead horde is rushing the walls, but in the quiet downtime, she’d earn her share of fresh water and rations. Besides, she was raised on the streets of St. Louis and traveled as a Black woman in the 1920s. I’m sure she knows her way around a switchblade for defensive purposes.