Just last week this incredible woman made waves in the media for being the new face of the $20 bill. But why did she get the honor?
From the very beginning Harriet Tubman knew a life of hardship and pain. The plantation owner that owned her family was an abusive man. However, the most traumatizing event occurred when Harriet was just a teenager on her way to the dry goods store. She encountered a slave owner who had captured his runaway slave. He ordered Harriet to hold the man down while he punished him. When Harriet refused he threw a 10 lb sack of flour that hit her in the head. For the rest of her life she was plagued with migraines, seizures and narcoleptic episodes. Though a slave herself she married a freeman. However, though half of Maryland’s slaves were free there wasn’t much opportunity for them. Likewise, just because one person within the family was free it didn’t mean that the rest were. As you can imagine, this complicated matters.
After the death of her master in 1849 she utilized the underground railroad to runaway to Philadelphia. However, she didn’t rest when she made it to freedom. in 1850 she began her life’s work freeing her family and others trapped in slavery. She started with her niece who was a slave along with her children (because ownership was tracked through maternal lineage) however, her niece’s husband was free. When Tubman’s niece was put up for auction her nephew in law was able to buy her. Tubman helped him obtain his children before bringing them north to Philadelphia. Tubman went on to freeing almost 70 people, including her parents.
That same year Tubman and other freed slaves faced a whole new challenge with Fugitive Slave Law. This entitled bounty hunters from the south to reclaim escaped slaves in the north and kidnap free slaves. Even police officers in the north were compelled to have to arrest former slaves and send them back to the south. Tubman only had one option, she redirected the Underground Railroad to Canada where slavery was completely outlawed.
When Civil War broke out the Union took advantage of her unique skill set making her a nurse, a scout and eventually a spy. She was the first woman to lead a military operation, freeing 700 slaves.
After the war Tubman moved to New York, helping freed slaves start their new free lives. This is why Harriet Tubman has rightfully earned her place on the $20 bill.
- The House Girl
- 12 Years a Slave
- The Bondwoman’s Narrative (Which is perhaps the first book written by an African American Woman)
- The Color Purple