This week, I’m celebrating Harriet Tubman’s March 6 birthday by featuring three images of her. March 6 is merely a date assigned to her ca.1823 birth, because being born into slavery, her entry into the world escaped official notice.
Why she belongs here
Harriet belongs on this blog because she was a contemporary of Susan B. Anthony, who fought against slavery for many years. In fact, the two worked together, as noted by an official at Susan’s birthplace in Massachusetts. In addition to that connection, Harriet deserves recognition during the week of International Women’s Day (March 8), having made a monumental contribution to human rights by freeing hundreds from slavery.
Now admired for her bravery, Harriet was notorious in the 1850s. Her image stared out from Wanted posters, offering the (then) huge amount of a $4,000 reward. Accounts vary, but it’s safe to say that she single-handedly made 13 trips back to the South before joining up with others, including the United States Union army. All told, she freed some 700 people.
During the 1850s, Harriet made her home with her rescued relatives in St. Catherine’s, Ontario (Canada), where they could all live safe from slave hunters. When Union victory signaled the end of slavery in 1865, they moved to Auburn, New York. There she devoted the rest of her life to the home she established for aged Black people. Today that site is a national historical park.
Three images of Harriet
The first of today’s three Harriet Tubman images will debut on the $20 bill in 2030. It would’ve appeared sooner if not delayed by the Trump administration. But now it’s back on the schedule, and in my mind can’t come about soon enough. If money means power and leadership, then it’s fitting that this powerful woman take her place on American currency. However, not everyone thinks that way, so here’s another interesting opinion.
The second and third images are statues. Though sculpted by different artists, they have one striking feature in common: Harriet is on the move.
I snapped the first picture of a small version of the Harriet Tubman Memorial (aka “Swing Low”) at the Memorial Art Gallery in Rochester. This full-size statue adorns an intersection in New York City and stands 13 feet tall. Sculpted by Alison Saar, it depicts Harriet striding forward as a majestic, unstoppable force, carrying numerous African-Americans in the folds of her skirt.
Another inspiring likeness, by Wesley Wofford, is currently touring the country after its unveiling in Rochester on September 22, 2022. Entitled “Journey to Freedom,” it stands nine feet tall. The Susan B. Anthony Birthplace Museum in Adams, MA sponsored the visit of a smaller replica in February. The distress and fear in the child’s face, coupled with Harriet’s urgency, underscores the life-and-death stakes of every mission she undertook.
Famous on two counts
February (Black History Month) and March (Women’s History Month) are too short to celebrate all the amazing African-Americans and women who have blazed trails before us. Because Harriet Tubman was a shining example on both counts, I had trouble deciding when to feature her. As Rochester’s mayor Malik Evans said at the unveiling of the statue, “Harriet Tubman was the epitome of the strength and resilience that continues to be the legacy of Black women in America.”
If you are looking for other sources of inspiration in Rochester, the Frederick Douglass statue commemorates another former slave who worked with Susan B. Anthony.