Harriet Tubman is to be honored with a spot on the $20 bill. We should be honored and humbled that she will grace it; I hope we have her approval, posthumously.
She was born to enslaved parents as Araminta (‘Minty’) Ross around 1822. The exact date is not known. She was later married to John Tubman, who was a free black man. She changed her name to Harriet sometime around her marriage.
This courageous visionary was a cook and a nurse for the Union Army before becoming a spy, and an armed scout. She guided a raid that freed seven hundred slaves. She was the first woman to lead an armed mission in the war. She saved seventy families from slavery, and transported them first to the ‘north’ and then into Canada when the Fugitive Slave Act became law. She was a suffragette later in life
Harriet Tubman accomplished all of that with a traumatic brain injury, long lasting injuries from repeated beatings, and the life she lived as chattel. Property. She was regarded as no better than livestock. Her head injury occurred when she was in a shop, and an overseer demanded she help him restrain a slave who had left the fields without permission. She refused. The overseer threw a heavy weight at the man, and it struck the adolescent Harriet in the head, nearly killing her. She was unconscious for two days, at which point she was unceremoniously ordered to the fields for work, while bleeding and in great pain. She had seizures, headaches and hypersomnia for the rest of her life. It is suspected that she suffered from temporal lobe epilepsy.
She didn’t let that stop her.
When Harriet made her run for freedom, she was assisted by kind people, mostly Quakers. She describes crossing the line into Pennsylvania for the first time:
When I found I had crossed that line, I looked at my hands to see if I was the same person. There was such a glory over everything; the sun came like gold through the trees, and over the fields, and I felt like I was in Heaven
She made that return journey many times to rescue other slaves. First her family, then friends and strangers. One of her last missions was to rescue her parents. Harriet floated families up rivers on rafts, and used risky disguises and tricks to get them to safety. There is evidence that she and Frederick Douglass worked together to bring some slaves to freedom. It is suspected that she brought eleven escaped slaves to his home, here is the quote from Douglass:
Douglass wrote: “On one occasion I had eleven fugitives at the same time under my roof, and it was necessary for them to remain with me until I could collect sufficient money to get them on to Canada. It was the largest number I ever had at any one time, and I had some difficulty in providing so many with food and shelter…
I could tell you Harriet’s entire history, but I won’t. It is available everywhere. She was the embodiment of American courage and spirit, while she was fighting unjust laws in America. I am so grateful that she will be the first woman and first African-American to grace our currency (Other than coins). And remember, she served as a nurse. I am doubly proud of her.
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