Black History Month Got Even Better Thanks To This Newly Discovered Harriet Tubman Photo


Feb. 9 2017, Published 7:25 a.m. ET

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Harriet Tubman’s legacy has been going strong in 2017.

In early January, it was announced that the sites where Harriet Tubman lived and worshiped in upstate New York would become a national park. This week Tony award winner Cynthia Erivo signed on to play Harriet Tubman in a new film called Harriet. But just yesterday, a never-before-seen photo of Harriet Tubman was released. And it depicts a portrait of Tubman like you’ve never seen her before.

The image was found in the album of fellow abolitionist and friend of Tubman’s – Emily Howland, and rediscovered by historians readying Tubman’s properties.

“What’s remarkable about this photograph is that she’s so proud and dignified and beautiful. She looks so young,” says Historian  Kate Clifford Larson, author of Bound for the Promised Land: Harriet Tubman, Portrait of an American Hero.

“This is the vibrant young Tubman just coming off her work during the Civil War. She’s building her life with her family in (New York).”

Larson estimates that Tubman is between the ages of 43-46 in this picture, around the time that should would have settled in Auburn permanently.

— Scott Dworkin (@funder) February 8, 2017

Harriet Tubman was our nation’s most famous abolitionist, as well as a Civil War hero. Born in the slave state of Maryland in in the 1820s, she was one of nine children. Three of Tubman’s sisters were sold to different families during her early childhood, breaking the family apart. But years later, her mother resisted the selling of Tubman’s young brother, setting a powerful example for Tubman’s moral resistance and human-based advocacy.

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Like many slaves, Tubman was subjected to severe abuse. The most detrimental instance of this was on an errand, when she encountered a slave who left his owner’s land without permission. The man’s overseer demanded Tubman restrain him. But when she refused, the overseer threw a two-pound weight at her, striking her head, and causing  an onslaught of seizures, headaches and narcoleptic episodes that would last the duration of her life, eventually leading to brain surgery in her later years.

Tubman eventually escaped and travelled over 90 miles to Philadelphia – the duration of the trip she did by herself. Of crossing into the north, she stated, “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.”

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Tubman returned countless times to free hundreds of slaves through the Underground railroad for the next ten years through an elaborate network of homes that served as safe houses for slaves traveling to the north. She became known as Moses by abolitionists and was quoted as saying, “I never ran a train off the track and I never lost a passenger.”  

Most famously, in 1963, Tubman worked with General James Montgomery against the Confederate army in South Carolina to lead a raid that freed over 700 slaves. She was the first American woman to lead a war raid. Tubman also served in the Union army as a nurse, cook, spy, and scout. However, she spent the rest of her life trying to collect $1,800 in back pay that was never given to her.

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“She was warned. She was given an explanation. Nevertheless, she persisted.” — Heather Matarazzo (@HeatherMatarazz) February 8, 2017

After the war, Tubman spent the rest of her life helping former slaves and the elderly, establishing a ‘Home for the Aged’ on her land in Auburn, bought from an abolitionist New York Senator.

Though Tubman was never given her fair share of currency, last year’s announcement that she would be the new face of the $20 bill strikes a sense of irony and long overdue recognition for this most impressive woman.

Tubman’s face will be replacing that of known slave owner Andrew Jackson. This move is one small step towards ensuring that America’s history is remembered accurately and that we are recognizing those who have made important contributions to the future of our country and the values it stands upon.

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