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Harriet Tubman’s moving legacy: 'I was a stranger in a strange land'

The United States owes a great deal of what it is today to the powerful African American hero, Harriet Tubman. Every March 10, we celebrate her achievements.

Harriet Tubman’s moving legacy: 'I was a stranger in a strange land'
Image Source: Horatio Seymour Squyer/ National Portrait Gallery

Among the millions of people who were enslaved during the Trans Atlantic Slave Trade, was Harriet Tubman. Tubman, who had been born into slavery in Maryland, fought for justice ever since she was a teenager. Though she was of ill health and experienced immense oppression as a black woman, she battled against circumstance in order to craft a freer America for all. Every March 10, the date of her death anniversary, the United States celebrates her moving life and legacy. From a slave destined for only subjugation to a household name in the fight for civil liberties, Tubman is one of the key reasons America stands where it does today, CNN reports.



Tubman was born around 1820 to 1822. Like many slaves of her time, her exact birth date is unknown. Her story begins in Dorchester County, Maryland, where she was born as Araminta to parents Ben Ross and Harriet Green. She had eight siblings, who, like her, were all born into slavery. Some of them were later sold to distant plantations.



Seeds of Protest

The future freedom fighter’s dissent became evident when she was just a young teen. Reportedly, she once stepped between a slave who left a field without permission and their overseer, suffering consequently a blow to her head. She was nearly killed in the altercation and went on to experience severe headaches and seizures throughout her life as a result.



Her First Marriage

In 1844, Tubman got married for the first time. Little is known about how she met her first husband, a free African American named John Tubman, but their relationship was not unusual for the time period. Several couples comprised free and enslaved African Americans. Sources estimate that about half of the African American population was free at the time. Following her first marriage, Tubman adopted her husband’s last name and her mother’s first name. It was only when her husband refused to join her escape that the couple separated.



Her Escape

Four years after her first marriage, Tubman did perhaps the bravest thing an enslaved black woman could do at the time: escape. Her owner had died and she feared she would be sold. Along with two of her brothers, she escaped the plantation she was born on and headed to Pennsylvania. However, part-way through the journey, her brothers became fearful and turned around. Nevertheless, she persisted.

Tubman arrived safely in Philadelphia - despite the fact that a $100 reward was offered for her capture. She would later affirm, “I had crossed the line. I was free; but there was no one to welcome me to the land of freedom. I was a stranger in a strange land.”



Her Fight for Justice

Tubman was now free. But she was not content to be free alone while others like her continued to remain shackled. Over the next decade, she made several trips to Maryland in order to free slaves, fulfilling a vow she had undertaken to free all her family and friends.

She made her first trip in 1850 when she learned that her niece Kessiah was about to be auctioned off. Hatching a plan with Kessiah’s husband, a free man, she guided the couple through the Underground Railroad, a secret network of routes and safe houses.

Utilizing the skills she learned while observing the stars and working on the fields and woods as a slave, she guided black people to freedom. Later, Tubman claimed that she never lost a passenger while traveling on the Underground Railroad. Even after Congress passed the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, Tubman refused to stop her fight to save African American slaves. She rerouted the Underground Railroad to Canada, through which she continued to save hundreds of more slaves.

By the time she completed her last trip in 1860, she had rescued a total of 300 people, some say. The Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad Byway estimates the number closer to 70.




The Civil War

As the Civil War raged on, Tubman served as a spy, scout, nurse, and cook in the United States Army from 1860 to 1865. During a mission with Col. James Montgomery, she helped rescue over 700 enslaved people while the Combahee River raid took place in South Carolina.



The Women’s Movement

After a lifetime of fighting for social justice, Tubman went on to actively participate in the women's suffrage movement in the 1890s. Working closely with Susan B. Anthony, she spoke at events and became a powerful figure in the fight for equal voting rights.



Her Death

The civil rights icon sadly passed away on March 10, 1913, in Auburn, New York. Prior to her death, she underwent brain surgery due to the injuries she sustained as a teenager.

She was buried at Fort Hill Cemetery in Auburn with military honors by family and friends.

Every year, the United States celebrates her life and achievements on March 10 as a way to honor her defiant legacy. While the plan to redesign the $20 bill in order to make way for Tubman still remains up in the air, there is no doubt that America owes a great deal of what it is today to this great African American hero.



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