For Black History Month, Maison French Deal wishes to highlight personalities, stories and historical facts of Black Culture. Through this article, we invite you to discover Harriet Tubman “The Black Moses”, a figure of the slave revolt in the United States during the 19th century.
A difficult youth but the hope to get out of it
Harriet Tubman was born around 1822 in a Maryland plantation. Born “Araminta Ross”, she is the fifth of nine siblings. Very early, the large family is separated and dispersed in several plantations of the country.
As a child, Harriet witnessed a scene that marked her life forever. One day, her mother threatened a white merchant who came to the plantation to buy one of her daughters. Following this act of bravery, the sale was cancelled. Her mother’s courage and resilience inspired Harriet throughout her life.
Harriet lived with her owner, Edward Brodess. But from a very young age, from the age of 6, she was rented to other owners, each one more cruel than the other. She endured years of inhuman violence. She recounted a violence that left her with lifelong scars: a foreman threw a weight of about one kilogram in her direction, hitting her on the head. The resulting severe blow caused her to have intermittent epileptic seizures for the rest of her life. From then on and because of her injury, she fears to be resold and thus plans to escape on foot towards Pennsylvania (one of the first states of the country to have abolished slavery). In the fall of 1849, she escaped north, leaving behind her husband, a free man, who did not want to follow her. She was helped by the “underground railroad”, which helped slaves to escape to the North.
Freedom for all
Shortly after her arrival in Pennsylvania, Harriet decides to leave to free her family and other slaves. But in 1850 a law was passed to punish all those who helped slaves to escape. Harriet then continued even further north and accompanied the slaves to Canada. It was estimated that she would save about 300 slaves in 20 trips, without ever losing a single man along the way. Her fame and success attracted many opponents who wanted to capture her. But on the other hand, her exploits gave hope to the slaves who saw in her a new Moses (hence her nickname the “Black Moses”).
An important role during the Civil War
When the Civil War broke out in the United States, Harriet enlisted with various Union troops (23 states that were not part of the Confederation): nurse, cook, scout and spy. Harriet’s unprecedented determination and courage inspired respect at the highest levels of the Unionist staff. She participated in a major operation in South Carolina, allowing hundreds of slaves to escape. But despite her total commitment to the abolition of slavery, she lived in misery all her life and had to wait more than 30 years to receive a military pension.
A respected figure of fight
A respected figure, Harriet Tubman is also committed to women’s right to vote.
After a long life of fighting for her freedom and that of others, in all its forms, Harriet Tubman died at the age of 91. At her funeral, she received military honors.
And while the story of Harriet Tubman is well documented, it also remains one of the few stories of women slaves that has reached the hands of historians in the 20th and 21st centuries.
Since 1990, every year on March 10th, « Harriet Tubman Day » has been celebrated in the United States.
During his term, Barack Obama had promised to put Harriet’s face on the 20-dollar bill, a project finally cancelled by Donald Trump. But the new president Joe Biden, following his inauguration on January 20, 2021, relaunched the project. A strong symbolism and giving hope to an America divided by President Trump.”