by Jeanne Gehret

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This week, I’m celebrating Harriet Tubman’s March 6 birthday by featuring three images of her. March 6 is merely a date assigned to her ca.1823 birth, because being born into slavery, her entry into the world escaped official notice.

Proposed U.S. $20 bill with image of black woman in head scarf
One of many designs of the much-anticipated Tubman $20 banknote

Why she belongs here

Harriet belongs on this blog because she was a contemporary of Susan B. Anthony, who fought against slavery for many years. In fact, the two worked together, as noted by an official at Susan’s birthplace in Massachusetts. In addition to that connection, Harriet deserves recognition during the week of International Women’s Day (March 8), having made a monumental contribution to human rights by freeing hundreds from slavery.

Now admired for her bravery, Harriet was notorious in the 1850s.  Her image stared out from Wanted posters, offering the (then) huge amount of a $4,000 reward. Accounts vary, but it’s safe to say that she single-handedly made 13 trips back to the South before joining up with others, including the United States Union army. All told, she freed some 700 people.

During the 1850s, Harriet made her home with her rescued relatives in St. Catherine’s, Ontario (Canada), where they could all live safe from slave hunters. When Union victory signaled the end of slavery in 1865, they moved to Auburn, New York. There she devoted the rest of her life to the home she established for aged Black people. Today that site is a national historical park.

Three images of Harriet

The first of today’s three Harriet Tubman images will debut on the $20 bill in 2030. It would’ve appeared sooner if not delayed by the Trump administration.  But now it’s back on the schedule, and in my mind can’t come about soon enough. If money means power and leadership, then it’s fitting that this powerful woman take her place on American currency. However, not everyone thinks that way, so here’s another interesting opinion.

The second and third images are statues. Though sculpted by different artists, they have one striking feature in common: Harriet is on the move.

I snapped the first picture of a small version of the Harriet Tubman Memorial (aka “Swing Low”) at the Memorial Art Gallery in Rochester. This full-size statue adorns an intersection in New York City and stands 13 feet tall. Sculpted by Alison Saar, it depicts Harriet striding forward as a majestic, unstoppable force, carrying numerous African-Americans in the folds of her skirt.

Statue of Black woman in a long dress with images of faces on the skirt

Another inspiring likeness, by Wesley Wofford, is currently touring the country after its unveiling in Rochester on September 22, 2022. Entitled “Journey to Freedom,” it stands nine feet tall.  The Susan B. Anthony Birthplace Museum in Adams, MA  sponsored the visit of a smaller replica in February. The distress and fear in the child’s face, coupled with Harriet’s urgency, underscores the life-and-death stakes of every mission she undertook.

Statue of an African-American woman pulling a child
“Journey to Freedom” image used with permission

Famous on two counts

February (Black History Month) and March (Women’s History Month) are too short to celebrate all the amazing African-Americans and women who have blazed trails before us. Because Harriet Tubman was a shining example on both counts, I had trouble deciding when to feature her. As Rochester’s mayor Malik Evans said at the unveiling of the statue, “Harriet Tubman was the epitome of the strength and resilience that continues to be the legacy of Black women in America.”

If you are looking for other sources of inspiration in Rochester, the Frederick Douglass statue commemorates another former slave who worked with Susan B. Anthony.

6 Comments

  1. Carol Crossed March 10, 2023 at 10:23 am - Reply

    Jeanne, this is a remarkable post. I am sending off to Odyssey Wolford (even though I imagine she already knows of your posts.) as well as the Rochester folks who sponsored the statue. And I am grateful for the SBA Birthplace shout outs!

    • Jeanne Gehret March 10, 2023 at 9:20 pm - Reply

      We have such a rich legacy in Rochester, I’m always glad to see it celebrated. Thanks for spreading the word.

  2. Kathy Peters March 10, 2023 at 12:06 pm - Reply

    Nicely done & very informative Jen!

  3. Lucy Anthony Czaja March 11, 2023 at 12:13 pm - Reply

    Thank you

  4. Elaine Fredericks March 15, 2023 at 11:27 am - Reply

    Very interesting content and wonderful pictures. I learned a lot about Susan B. That I didn’t know, despite being a docent at the Susan B. House at one time.

    • Jeanne Gehret March 22, 2023 at 3:24 pm - Reply

      Thanks, Elaine. Glad to have you aboard. The Susan B. Anthony House is a fascinating place, and soon they will be getting a new interpretation center around the corner. Also, a former Penfield librarian has just published a book with gorgeous photos of the House.

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