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Monday, February 06, 2006

Black History Museum & Harriet Tubman

I am extremely happy that this museum is finally going to be a reality! I am including, in this post, an essay I wrote a few years ago about one of my favorite people in American history. What Harriet Tubman did is nothing short of amazing!

A museum that supporters say will feature the achievements of African-Americans as well as painful moments in their history will be built on the National Mall not far from the Washington Monument.

The Smithsonian Institution will operate the National Museum of African American History and Culture. The prominent location, announced Monday, promotes the concept that African-American life is a part of mainstream American life, said Rep. John Lewis (news, bio, voting record), D-Ga., who has been pushing for the museum for about 20 years.

You can read the rest of the story here from Yahoo News and USA TODAY.

Harriet Tubman-The Moses of Her People

One of the best known conductors of the infamous Underground Railroad of the Civil War era would have to be Harriet Tubman. Born into slavery in Dorchester County, Maryland and originally named Araminta Ross, she was one of the eleven children of Harriet and Benjamin Ross. Tubman would learn early in life what it was to be a slave. By age five, she would become a nursemaid to a baby and a house servant to those who leased her from her master. She would endure many whippings among other humiliations at a tender age.

By her early teens she was working in the fields. One day, while defending a young man from an angry boss, she suffered an injury that would haunt her the rest of her life. It's said that the boss picked-up a heavy weight and, intending to hit a young man who out of fear was trying to move away from the angry man, and instead hit young Araminta in the head. For the rest of her life she would suffer seizures rendering her unconscious for a time.

It was in 1844 that she met a free black man named of John Tubman. They would soon marry, and she would take his last name. Around the same time she would change her first name to Harriet, her mother’s name.

In 1849, Harriet Tubman, with the help of a friendly white woman, ran away from the plantation where she had been enslaved. Traveling north by night and on foot, she found her way to Philadelphia. Here she was able to find work and was even able to save some money. The plantation owner, from whom she had escaped, put up a $40,000 reward for her capture the following year.

Tubman would return to the south many times to help other slaves to escape. With a price on her head and in constant danger, she would lead more than three-hundred slaves to the freedom of the northern states and Canada. While leading a group to freedom, there would at times be those who wanted to return in fear of what would happen to them if they were caught. Tubman always had the same response: pulling a gun, she would say, "You'll be free or die as a slave!" She knew that if anyone were to return, it would endanger the other slaves she was helping as well as herself.

She was later called "The Moses of Her People," as they hoped that she would deliver them to freedom as Moses delivered the Israelites from slavery. She inspired the song "Go Down Moses" sung by slaves hoping to be freed.

Harriet Tubman was to become a supporter of John Brown, a militant American abolitionist who in 1859, after leading the raid on the federal arsenal at Harper's Ferry, Virginia (now, West Virginia), was caught and hung. She was so disappointed by the failure of the Harper's Ferry raid that she began a tour of the North speaking about ending slavery and about women's suffrage.

On April 12, 1861, the Civil War began when Confederate soldiers under the orders of General Pierre Beauregard opened fire with fifty cannons on Fort Sumter in Charleston, South Carolina. During the war, Harriet Tubman worked as a cook, a nurse and a spy for the Union army. Knowing the land so well from her many journeys between the north and south made Tubman an excellent choice as a spy. She recruited former slaves to locate Confederate camps and to report on the movements of their troops.

In 1863, with approximately 150 black soldiers, Tubman accompanied Colonel James Montgomery on an incursion by gunboat in South Carolina. The Union gunboats were able to surprise Confederate rebels, with information provided by her scouts. Many slaves came to realize that these gunboats could carry them to freedom, and when one would approach shore, slaves would come from every direction to board the boats. In an interview before her death, Tubman said, in reference to the slaves massing near the boats, "I never saw such a sight." During the course of the war, Harriet Tubman would also work as nurse and save many lives.

In 1869, with the help of Sarah Bradford she wrote her autobiography, "Harriet Tubman: The Moses of Her People." With a small pension from the United States Army and royalties from her book, she was able to purchase a house in Auburn, New York and turn it into a home for the elderly and disadvantaged. Harriet Tubman died on March 10th, 1913 in Auburn, New York at the age of 93. Her tombstone reads "Servant of God, Well Done."


The Library of Congress
VMI Archives
Spartacus Education

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