Kanye’s comments stating that African-American abolitionist and political activist, Harriet Tubman, didn’t help free black slaves because he alleged that she only freed black slaves, so she could make make them work for other white people, drew criticisms from different quarters, as well as, concern for his mental health.
Who was Harriet Tubman? And how true is Kanye’s allegations?
Harriet Tubman was born circa March 1822 to enslaved parents owned by Mary Pattison ( and later her son Edward). Harriet’s parents married around 1808 and the couple had nine children together. Harriet’s mother, Rit, stuggled to keep the family together, but her efforts proved abortive when Edward Brodesss sold three of her daughters ( Linah, Mariah Ritty and Soph), separating them from the family forever.
When Harriet was five or six years old, she was hired out as nursemaid to a woman named “Miss Susan”. She was ordered to care for Miss Susan's baby and rock its cradle as it slept. When it woke up and cried, she was whipped. As a child, Harriet worked other jobs, and even after she contracted measles, she was made to work until she became so ill that she was sent back to her mother, who nursed her back to health.
As an adolescent, Harriet suffered an head injury when she was struck by a two-pound metal that was directed at an enslaved person who was attempting to flee. She bled and was unconscious, but was unattended to for two days.
Harriet recuperated from her injury, but started experiencing visions and vivid dreams which she considered revelations from God. Although Harriet was illiterate, her mother toldhtold Bible stories and she became very religious. She rejected the New Testament that admonished slaves to obey their masters and found guidance in the Old Testament.
Around 1844, Harriet married a free Black man named John Tubman. Since the mother’s status dictated that of the children, any children born to the couple would be slaves. It's not known if this was the reason why Harriet didn't try to have a child of her own.
Harriet’s value as a slave was greatly diminished when she became ill in 1849. Angry at Edward Brodress for trying to sell her, she began to pray for him to change his ways, and when he didn’t change, she prayed for his death and he died. In order to avoid being sold after Edward’s death, Harriet and her brothers, Ben and Henry, escaped from slavery on September 17, 1849.
Harriet would use the Underground Railroad, a well-organized system composed of free and enslaves blacks, white abolitionists and other activists, to free her family members and other slaves. Harriet was said to carry a revolver that she used to protect herself and escaped slaves, as well as, threaten other slaves, who decided to go back to slavery because they thought the road to freedom was perilous.
When Civil War broke out in 1861, Harriet served with the Union army in various capacity. First, as a nurse, and later as an infantry. After the war, she worked different jobs to support her aged parents. She continued her philanthropic works and was heavily involved in the fight for woman’s suffrage.
Harriet has been immortalized in artistic portrayals, literature, film and television, monuments and memorials and visual arts. On April 20, 2016, then US Treasury Secretary, Jack Lew, announced plans to add a portrait of Harriet to the front of the twenty-dollar bill, but the plan was put on hold by Steven Mnuchin, Jack Lew’s successor.
Photo credit: Wikipedia
Photo credit: Wikipedia