“I was the conductor of the Underground Railroad for eight years, and I can say what most conductors can’t say – I never ran my train off the track and I never lost a passenger.”
Harriet Tubman at a suffrage convention, NY, 1896
I feel fortunate to be here in Washington DC on the day the US Treasury Department is announcing that Harriet Tubman, an enslaved woman who became our country’s most noted Underground Railroad conductor, will be the new face of the twenty-dollar bill replacing Andrew Jackson, a slave-owning US President. His image will be moved to the back.
Ms. Tubman was more than a freedom seeker, she was a freedom fighter who fully believed in our country’s founding principle even though as an African-American she was denied that fundamental right, “I had reasoned this out in my mind; there was one of two things I had a right to, liberty, or death; if I could not have one, I would have the other; for no man should take me alive; I should fight for my liberty as long as my strength lasted, and when the time came for me to go, the Lord would let them take me.”
Every summer I visit the British Methodist Episcopal Church Ms. Tubman helped found in her adopted home of St. Catharines, Canada, an important place of abolitionist activity and the final terminus for hundreds of freedom seekers. Many of them called her “Moses” and her abolitionist societies and activities assisted them in adjusting to their new life in freedom. “…there was no one to welcome me to the land of freedom. I was a stranger in a strange land; and my home, after all, was down in Maryland, because my father, my mother, my brothers, and sisters, and friends were there. But I was free, and they should be free.”
Born Araminta Ross in Dorchester County, Maryland, she lived in slavery until she freed herself and then began freeing others – mainly family and friends. She lived in St. Catharines for a decade before settling in Auburn, New York where she bought land and founded the Home for the Aged, a home for indigent and elderly African-Americans. “Harriet Tubman refused to be bound by the chains of slavery, or by the low expectations limiting the lives of women and African Americans. Struggling against amazing odds, and never wavering from her commitment to liberation and civil rights, Harriet Tubman fought for what we as Americans hold dear: freedom, equality, justice and self-determination,” Kate Clifford Larson says in her book Harriet Tubman: Portrait of an American Hero.
As a nurse, scout, and spy for the Union Army during the Civil War, some are now calling her a war hero. As a suffragette she was an early women’s rights activist. And as an abolitionist who had to take her own freedom, she was more of a freedom fighter than our founding fathers. She believed in America’s promise. There is no better representative of our nation’s ideals.
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