Harriet Tubman was a prominent American political and abolitionist. Born in 1820 into slavery, Tubman made several escape attempts and later made several missions to free about 70 slaves, including the Underground Railroad, an underground railroad built by slaves to escape from a life of slavery. Tubman later served for several terms as Speaker of the House of Representatives, a Senator, and a Vice President of the United States. She was also a writer and speaker and published several influential works of fiction and nonfiction.
Tubman’s story is essential to American history and the Civil War. She repeatedly spoke out against slavery and racism, including in her writings and speeches. Tubman served as a courier between Union and Confederate forces during the Civil War. The Underground Railroad even helped supply the freed slaves of the South with food, blankets, clothes, medicine, tools, and many other essentials. Her role as a courier helped lead Tubman to freedom.
Tubman first became a conductor in the Navy when she was just twenty-one years old. She helped transport Union troops to safety during the Civil War. When the Union navy vessels became too weak to manage their trade, Tubman took command of one of them and helped man it. She continued in this role until the war was over. When the United States passed the 20th amendment to the constitution, enabling the president to stop the ban on black ownership of property, Tubman again played a leading role in the suffragette movement and was elected to delegate to the First National Female Labor Party.
Tubman then became a candidate for the Women’s International Suffrage Association candidate, an organization that evolved out of the suffragettes. Tubman believed that the war was fought between “the white slave trader and the slaveholder. The white slave trader had brought upon himself the loss of black lives. He needed to find a solution to the problem of how to free the blacks that were already prisoners in their own hands.” Tubman believed that the only way to accomplish this goal was to organize a group of Indigent people of color to travel throughout the country, form chapters wherever they went, speak out at conventions, and petition the courts to allow women and men equal rights.
Tubman became the first woman U.S. Senator from New York and was then appointed to serve as President of the newly formed American Anti-Slavery Society. Tubman played a vital role in the campaign to have the Nineteenth Amendment passed, which ended the rule that all men were automatically assigned to slave plantations. As President of the association, she continued her efforts to improve conditions for the freedmen of America. She managed to have the Enforcement Act approved by the states and was also responsible for having the Emancipation Proclamation.
Tubman continued to play an essential role in the fight for civil rights. In her final years, she was active in the Women’s Rights Movement and helped popularize the Underground Railroad, which helped free black men and women escape from slavery in the southern United States. Tubman’s writings also reveal an awareness of rare racism with most American leaders of her time. For example, she wrote, “No intelligent person who does not believe that colored folks are equal to white folks believe that the colored races are superior or inferior to the white race in intelligence, virtue, and intellect.”
Tubman lived in Dorchester County (now known as Dorset County) all the remaining days of her life. On April 14, 1860, Tubman gave a speech at the dedication of a new house for a freed slave, Phoebe Roberts. According to the historical accounts of the evening, Tubman told the audience that she was “delighted to see a girl come into the house which looked more like a lady than a maid.” The speech, which can be read online, is remarkable in its brevity for an accomplished woman of that time. It is also filled with sentiments for the African-American people of the south.
Tubman later returned to England and lived the rest of her days in Dorchester County. Two years before her death, on March 4, 1860, Tubman gave a lengthy address to the people assembles of the commons’ courts of Commons in London. In this speech, Tubman spoke of her early years in America, her time as a runaway slave, and her years as a captive in England’s east coast plantations. She ended her address by writing, “My heart is filled with love to the God of my Lord. Let the hearts of all men be melted in my presence.”
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