By Kelvin Muhia
Today in Black History, led U.S. troops to free over 800 slaves, as the leading abolitionist and infamous “conductor” of the Underground Railroad. Harriet Tubman was born as Araminta Ross in 1820 to Harriet and Benjamin Ross, who were both slaves in Dorchester County, Maryland. As a young girl, she worked as a nursemaid for her master’s small boy. Her role was to stay awake all night and ensure that the small boy didn’t cry and wake his mother.
At the age of seven, Araminta was sent to work in the fields. During her teenage years, she experienced a lot of physical violence, such as being whipped by her master, which led to permanent injuries. One day, while working in the fields, she refused to help an overseer punish a slave who had gone to the store without permission. When the young slave boy attempted to run away, the overseer threw a two-pound iron weight that missed him and accidentally fell on Araminta’s head, crushing her and leaving her with a severe scar and damage that never fully recovered.
Around 1844, she married a free black man named John Tubman. She took his last name, dropped her birth names, and changed her first name to Harriet to honor her mother. In 1849, after the death of her owner, Tubman feared that she along with other fellow slaves in the plantation would be sold out to other slave owners. With the help of a white woman, Tubman and her two siblings, Ben and Henry, left Maryland and followed the North Star, which would lead them to freedom. Although her two brothers become frightened and decided to turn back, Tubman continued with her journey to freedom making her way to Philadelphia.
“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.”
During the Civil War, Tubman worked as a spy, a cook, and a nurse. As she was very knowledgeable with the road networks, Harriet became a spy and armed scout and enrolled in a mission to lead slaves to freedom. She was the first woman to lead an armed expedition in the war, as she led the Combahee River Raid on a late-night raid free over 700 slaves. Among the most dangerous journeys she encountered involved saving her 70-year-old parents. She made over 20 trips to her home state of Maryland and ultimately led over 1000 slaves to freedom.
In 1859, Harriet bought a piece of land in the outskirts of Auburn, New York. In 1869, she married Civil War veteran, Nelson Davis, with whom she adopted a baby girl five years later. In 1903, she donated a piece of her land to the African Methodist Church.
As she aged, the early injuries she sustained on her head became more disruptive, leading to an urgent brain surgery at Boston General Hospital. Harriet Tubman later died of Pneumonia in 1913. In April 2016, the U.S. Treasury announced that Harriet Tubman will replace Andrew Jackson on the center of a new $20 bill.