Born into slavery, Tubman helped others to freedom following her own successful escape.
Harriet Tubman was born into slavery in Maryland, USA in 1822. Originally named Araminta Ross, she changed her name to Harriet after marrying in 1844. As a girl and young woman, Tubman endured brutal beatings before she fled slavery, leaving her family behind in order to escape to freedom.
After she managed to escape, she risked her freedom and her life to return to the southern slave states in order to find her family and help others to freedom. Tubman made use of the Underground Railroad – a network of safe houses for fleeing slaves – during her own escape, and became a ‘conductor’, helping others to flee. When she returned to Maryland, she found that her husband had remarried and had no wish to join her. Nevertheless she continued to help other slaves, risking her life in the process. Over the course of eleven years, it is estimated that she helped around 70 slaves escape to the north, where slavery was outlawed.
During the American Civil War, Tubman worked as a nurse for Union troops. She went on to work as a scout, providing vital intelligence to Colonel Montgomery and she later became the first female ever to lead an armed assault during the American Civil War.
Tubman had bought a plot of land in Auburn, New York in 1859, and she returned there after the war. She took in many people, caring for the needy as well as for her own family. In addition to her contributions to helping slaves and campaigning for the abolition of slavery, Tubman also advocated for women’s suffrage, working alongside other activists such as Susan B Anthony.
Later, Tubman became heavily involved in Church life, working closely with the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church and donating land for the construction of a home for the aged. Her health suffered later in life, owing in part to the beatings she endured as a young slave, and she suffered headaches and seizures that appeared to be linked to an old head injury. Tubman died of pneumonia in 1913 aged 90 or 91.
Tubman’s fearless dedication to bringing down slavery served as an inspiration to other civil rights leaders and activists. Her life has been celebrated in book, film and opera, and statues of her stand in Manhattan and on the campus of Salisbury University in Maryland. She was the first African American woman to appear on a US postage stamp and is widely considered to be one of the most influential African Americans in history.
“Now I’ve been free, I know what a dreadful condition slavery is. I have seen hundreds of escaped slaves, but I never saw one who was willing to go back and be a slave.”
“Every great dream begins with a dreamer. Always remember, you have within you the strength, the patience, and the passion to reach for the stars to change the world.”
“I would fight for my liberty so long as my strength lasted, and if the time came for me to go, the Lord would let them take me.”