Celebrating Harriet Tubman
Updated: Feb 25
Below is just a small clip of her lifetime of achievements.
Harriet Tubman who was born Araminta Ross, in March 1822 was an American abolitionist and social activist. Born into slavery, Tubman escaped and subsequently made some 13 missions to rescue approximately 70 slaves, including family and friends, using the network of antislavery activists and safe houses known as the Underground Railroad. During the American Civil War, she served as an armed scout and spy for the Union Army. In her later years, Tubman was an activist in the movement for women's suffrage.
Tubman's dangerous work required tremendous ingenuity; she usually worked during winter months, to minimize the likelihood that the group would be seen. One admirer of Tubman said: "She always came in the winter, when the nights are long and dark, and people who have homes stay in them." Once she had made contact with those escaping slavery, they left town on Saturday evenings, since newspapers would not print runaway notices until Monday morning.
Her journeys into the land of slavery put her at tremendous risk, and she used a variety of subterfuges to avoid detection. Tubman once disguised herself with a bonnet and carried two live chickens to give the appearance of running errands. Suddenly finding herself walking toward a former owner in Dorchester County, she yanked the strings holding the birds' legs, and their agitation allowed her to avoid eye contact. Later she recognized a fellow train passenger as another former master; she snatched a nearby newspaper and pretended to read. Tubman was known to be illiterate, and the man ignored her.
She carried a revolver, and was not afraid to use it. The gun afforded protection from the ever-present slave catchers and their dogs. Tubman also purportedly threatened to shoot any escaped person traveling with her who tried to turn back on the journey since that would threaten the safety of the remaining group. Tubman told the tale of one man who insisted he was going to go back to the plantation when morale got low among a group of escapees. She pointed the gun at his head and said, "You go on or die." Several days later, the man who had initially wavered, safely crossed into Canada with the rest of the group.
At the turn of the 20th century, Tubman became heavily involved with the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church in Auburn. In 1903, she donated a parcel of real estate she owned to the church, under the instruction that it be made into a home for "aged and indigent colored people". The home did not open for another five years, and Tubman was dismayed when the church ordered residents to pay a $100 entrance fee. She said: "[T]hey make a rule that nobody should come in without they have a hundred dollars. Now I wanted to make a rule that nobody should come in unless they didn't have no money at all." She was frustrated by the new rule, but was the guest of honor nonetheless when the Harriet Tubman Home for the Aged celebrated its opening on June 23, 1908
Widely known and well-respected while she was alive, Tubman became an American icon in the years after she died. A survey at the end of the 20th century named her as one of the most famous civilians in American history before the Civil War, third only to Betsy Ross and Paul Revere. She inspired generations of African Americans struggling for equality and civil rights; she was praised by leaders across the political spectrum. The city of Auburn commemorated her life with a plaque on the courthouse. Although it showed pride for her many achievements, its use of dialect ("I nebber run my train off de track"), apparently chosen for its authenticity, has been criticized for undermining her stature as an American patriot and dedicated humanitarian. Nevertheless, the dedication ceremony was a powerful tribute to her memory, and Booker T. Washington delivered the keynote address.