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Harriet Tubman: An American Hero

What do an asteroid, a section of a highway, a college dormitory, many schools, museums and a World War II Liberty Ship have in common? How about statues in Boston, Massachusetts, Ypsilanti, Michigan, and New York City, or National Historical Parks in New York and in Maryland? If  you guess that they all have something to do with Harriet Tubman, you are correct! They are all named in honor of her.

Harriet Tubman was born Araminta “Minty” Ross into slavery on a plantation in Maryland. As a young child, her master, John Brodas, hired her out to clean house and care for a baby. I was so little that I had to sit on the floor and have the baby put in my lap, she later recalled. If the baby cried or if the house was not clean enough, she would be whipped. One day she ran away and hid in a pigsty for a few days. She survived by eating potato peels, until the pigs chased her out of her hiding place and she was returned to Brodas.

One day while working in the field, she saw another slave slip away.   The overseer chased him, corned him in a store, and ordered Minty to tie him up for a whipping. She refused. The slave escaped. The enraged overseer picked up a heavy iron weight, and threw it, hitting Minty in the head. Blood gushed out of the terrible wound. For the rest of her life she suffered from severe headaches and seizures that caused her to suddenly go to sleep. Then, just as abruptly, she would wake up and go on as if nothing had happened.

In the mid-1840s, she changed her name to Harriet Tubman. In 1849 she escaped from slavery. Safely arriving in Pennsylvania, a free state, she declared: “I felt like I was in Heaven.”  Despite the dangers, Harriet Tubman returned many times to Maryland and led many slaves to freedom. During the Civil War, she served as a nurse, a scout, and a spy. there is a chapter about her in my book Spies! Women in the Civil War.

After the war, she advocated for woman suffrage because, she said, “I suffered enough to believe [in] it.”

Harriet Tubman died on March 10, 1913. A small evergreen tree was planted over her grave in Fort Hill Cemetery, Auburn, New York. Today that tree majestically towers over her grave, welcoming people who come to honor her and leave tokens of respect.

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