Harriet Tubman was born Araminta Ross, somewhere around the year 1822, in Dorchester County, Maryland. (I don’t remember exactly when I acquired most of my “equipment” or “tools”, either, thus, a vague year with no birth date is what we’re left to work with in her case, as that’s what she essentially was). Her maternal grandmother was brought over on a ship from Africa and told young Minty, as she was known, of her Ashanti heritage. Beginning at the age of 5, Harriet was rented out by her owners to neighbors as a domestic servant with one of her first jobs being to watch “miss Susan’s” baby. If the baby woke and or cried, young Harriet was beaten. As a child held in slavery, Harriet was often punished severely with once incident almost costing her life. When she was 12, a slave owner threw a solid, two-pound weight at a fellow slave who had tried to escape, striking Harriet (who had tried to intervene in the beating and torture) by mistake and leaving her with a lifetime of excruciatingly painful headaches and bouts of narcolepsy. After the head injury, she would often experience strange dreams and “visions”, which she attributed to messages from God. It seems our put upon but never broken heroine may have acquired her bravery and rebellious streak from her mother, Rit, who after having three of her daughters sold away by her owner, refused to surrender her son, Moses, to the same fate. Rit hid Moses for weeks among the slaves in her area and when confronted at her slave cabin door to hand over the baby, she told her owner and the Georgia buyer “you are after my son but the first man that comes into my house, I will split his head open”. Red faced, Master Edward and the customer turned on their heels and left. Brap.
Although a slave, Harriet married a free Black man, John Tubman, in 1844 and took on his last name while changing her first. In September of 1849, she escaped with two of her brothers to Philadelphia but that would not be her last time in the south. She returned over 19 times during a 10 year stretch and chaperoned over 300 slaves to freedom along the Underground Railroad, a system of safe houses and free and enslaved Blacks and abolitionist-minded folk, on the path to the north (a 5 week journey by foot, in those days). Moving by night, “Moses”, as she was called, used the North star to guide her and her charges through the night and it’s said that she “never lost a passenger”, even nudging some forward with the pistol that she packed. Mumma Moses stayed strapped in the event the slave catcher, their dogs or a recalcitrant, homesick slave either too scared to go on or yearning for ol’ Dixie stood between her and freedom.
During the Civil War, Tubman first worked as a cook, scout and later armed insurgent as she has the distinction of being the first woman to lead an armed expedition, in the United States. On June 1st and 2nd, 1863, Tubman and the Union Army began the raid at Combahee Ferry in Beaufort and Colleton couties, South Carolina. Guiding the Union during the historic, two-day battle, Moses helped free more than 750 slaves! Imagine the feelings that washed over them as slaves working in the fields saw the approaching ships and troops. They ran right through the grasps of masters and overseers and right down to the river bank with Tubman describing it thusly…
“I nebber see such a sight. We laughed an’ laughed an’ laughed. Here you’d see a woman wid a pail on her head, rice a smokin’ in it jus’ as she’s taken it from de fire, young one hangin’ on behind, one han’ roun’ her forehead to hold on, t’other han diggin into de rice pot, eatin’ wid all it’s might; hold of her dress two or three more; down her back a bag wid a pig in it“…Sarah Hopkins Bradford, Scenes in the Life of Harriet Tubman, Auburn [N.Y.]: W.J. Moses, printer, 1869, p. 39
At the conclusion of the Civil War, Tubman retired to Auburn NY on property she had purchased in 1859 to care for her aging parents. After such a harrowing life, she still had more to give and took up with the women’s suffrage movement, where her work and influence is well documented. Years later, age and the undoubtably crushing toll of chattel slavery took its toll and Moses moved into to the same home for aged Blacks that she helped create, the Harriet Tubman Home for the Elderly. After purchasing 25 acres with the help of the local AME church, in 1896, the home was opened on June 23, 1908 and was where she lived until her death in 1913.
After years of rumours and rumblings, the US Treasury announced on April 20th, 2016, that Harriet Tubman would be the first African-American and woman to have her face on US currency. This would also mark the first time that a new face had been added to a bill since the 1969 demise of the large denomination bills featuring McKinley, Cleveland, Madison and Salmon P. Chase on the $500, $1,000, $5,000 and $10,000 bills, respectively..
A great deal of Americans of all stripes saw this as a huge step (just to show bad it was, now just being treated like a human is now a huge step) but….your boy has issues with the selection. While no doubt an icon of freedom and courage, what does placing a former slave (perhaps one of the most famous/infamous?) on this country’s most widely used bill say about where we are and where we’ve come as not only a country but as Black people? Hell, what would Mumma Moses, herself, think about her face gracing the same notes that were not only used to purchase her and her people but would have been paid for her capture as there was once a $40,000 reward offered for her capture for the “crime” of freeing a human being from the clutches of another. As anybody who has ever read me knows, I’m more of a “glass half empty” kind of guy, even more so when it comes to the Black condition in America, and dont see this as an honour, at all. After all that was done to her and allowed to be done to her, placing her on this money is almost like the hunter who mounts the prized zebra that eluded him on those many hunts, finally captured, silenced, finally a threat no more. (see also the “indian” atop the U.S. Capitol dome). I think the only thing more disingenuous would be to place MLK on a bill. You know, considering how the govt basically admitted they had a role of complicity in, if not outright ordering, his death. Also, where you aware that Tubman is only gracing the front of the bill? Yeah, the back will still feature Old Hickory, himself. LOL in pain, bewilderment and WTFness all you want but, yep, it’s true. So, wait, you’re going to honour one of Black America’s first and most famous Sheroes by having her split top billing with the same nasty cracker (sorry, no respect given to slavers, no matter what country they ran) who would have owned her and probably shot and killed her for that 40 stack? Yes, Andrew Jackson owned the Hermitage Plantation and along with it SLAVES. Jackson started out with 9 slaves and by 1820 had about 44, later increasing his human stash to about 150 and it’s said that during his lifetime he probably owned upwards of 300 Black men and women. Are you fokn serious? That’s like Anne Frank sharing a bill with Hitler. Also, hello, have you looked at the other denominations? They’re still “baseball cards for slave owners”, as Chris Rock once cracked.
Tell you what, remove the other people whose ways and actions fly directly in the face of “every man created equal” and all the other hogwash espoused by these top flight hypocrites and replace them with Americans that we can all appreciate and look up to without lobotomizing half of our consciousness and intelligence and I will take this movement seriously. The replacements don’t even have to be Black nor all women, just, again, respectable citizens of history. If the country really wants to go forward with this, start with wiping Thomas Jefferson, the father of modern white supremacy, from the money. Neither you, I, nor Tubman would probably want her dollar in the same pocket as and rubbing up against the vile, child rapist Thomas Jefferson….I’m positive he wouldn’t either, judging by his revulsion of Black skin. Again, fok him! You can’t stop at the money though because there are bridges, monuments, parks and even whole cities named after some folks with terrible track records when it comes to Blacks, women, Native Americans etc. In the most affluent and successful African-American suburb in the country, Prince George’s County, Black children were forced to attend a school named after Roger B. Taney (looooook it uppppp), a fokn outrage! I know I’m a BMF and all that, even got the wallet to prove it, but I doubt my little rantings and ravings here will have little to no effect in stopping this plan from moving forward but I pay good money, per year, to my host to have my voice heard and you’ve just heard it. If it’s not clear by now, I’m against the Tubman $20 without major changes to the rest of the currency and how each character is viewed but, I’ll be damned if this aint jive gangsta…
You’re welcome, America