The Google Doodle on the first day of February was of Harriet Tubman. Although we don’t know the exact date of her birth, Tubman is a wonderful subject to start commemoration of Black History month. Since the continuation of my series is to determine what is hidden or not obvious about the “knowns” of Black History, I’m going to talk Harriet Tubman’s unknown contributions. Rather than continue the litany of how she helped slaves escape to freedom, which is what everyone knows about her, I am going to discuss more of her activates during the Civil War and after—for she lived a long time after dying just 100 years ago.
Harriet Tubman touched everyone who was a big deal during this time period. Frederick Douglass, who had made his own escape with the aid of his wife, was amazed at her bravery in going back and forth to help others escape. He had made that trip only one time, and even left the country to avoid being recaptured into slavery until he could be bought. Tubman went back south repeatedly to save many in her family and other who wanted to go.
To the rebel John Brown, she was General Tubman. Many abolitionists did not like the more direct methods of attack that John Brown espoused, but Harriet Tubman helped to recruit the fighting force that was part of the raid on Harper’s Ferry. For whatever reason, Tubman was not there when the botched raid on Harper’s Ferry occurred, but a number of people she helped to escape were part of of the raid which resulted in John Brown’s hanging.
She was also the first woman to lead an armed assault during the Civil War. Using her knowledge of scouting, she assisted in leading several steamboats on the Combahee River. Union troops came along and continued the attack on the plantations that fronted the river, freeing some 700 slaves at one time. Many of the men liberated during the Combahee River Raid later joined the Union Army, so she was a recruiter as well. She also worked with the commander of the Massachusetts 54th, Robert Gould Shaw.
Later, she insisted on a voice in the right to vote. She joined in the efforts of women’s suffrage with Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony. There had long been racial tensions in the ranks of those who tried to get the women’s right to vote, but Tubman breeched those racial tensions. She attended many meetings and rallies to help women get the right to vote, no matter what the color of the organizers were.
She was able to use her ability to build bridges to garner widespread admiration for her across the races. Whatever she did or if terrible things happened to her, she tended to engender admiration and, if necessary, sympathy in the press. Her body may have been petite, and the ravages of a blow to the head when she was young were a heavy cost, but her spirit was so strong. Throughout the course of her life, people would give her receptions and honors, unheard of for an African American female at the time.
Still, her life after the Civil War was not an easy one and she suffered from poverty. People wrote of her in an admiring way and eventually, Congress voted to give her a pension in honor of her services as a spy and a recruiter during the Civil War. She died in March 1913. I’m glad Google opted to start off Black History month by honoring this mufti-faceted complicated woman.