Harriet Tubman Presentation held for final Black History Month Event
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For its final event for Black History Month, and segueing into Women’s History Month, NWC’s Intercultural Program held a presentation in honor of Harriet Tubman on February 22. A “conductor” of the Underground Railroad, Tubman is an important historical figure and the future face of the $20 bill.
While she is most known for her work with the Underground Railroad, where she led hundreds of slaves from the south to freedom, Tubman was also a scout and a spy for the U.S. Army during the Civil War, a participant in the struggle for women’s suffrage, and a humanitarian who housed elderly African Americans. Born Araminta Ross around 1820 in Maryland, Tubman was born into slavery and escaped in 1949. With her freedom, Tubman decided to risk it in order to free her relatives and others from slavery as well, becoming known as “Moses,” in reference to the Biblical figure who brought the Hebrews to freedom.
“It’s estimated that she went south 13 times, on 13 different occasions,” said Dr. Amy McKinney, assistant professor of history and the host of the presentation. “A couple of sources put it at a little bit higher, some say 17 to 19, but most say 13, and in total, its believed that she saved about 300 people.”
Even before her freedom, Tubman made a huge sacrifice to help an escaping slave. As an overseer tried to run down an escaping slave, Tubman put herself between the two, causing the overseer to hit Tubman in the head with a heavy object, causing damage that would prevent her from doing certain slave work.
“She had a permanent dent in her head, which for the rest of her life, she suffered from narcolepsy and seizures from that one event,” McKinney said. “And that was when she was twelve.”
Despite that injury, Tubman worked in the fields as well as any other slave, and was priced as highly as a male slave. In 1844 she had married a free man named John Tubman, who despite his status as a freed slave, did not join her in her escape to the north.
Now freed, Tubman was not only able to support herself, but she started making connections with other people and got involved with the Underground Railroad. Despite her connections providing a lot of help, such as temporarily housing and hiding runaway slaves, they did not provide that much money to the trips themselves.
“One thing that I think that is very impressive about her involvement with the Underground Railroad is, those trips that she took south, when she went back to try to free more slaves, by and large, she self-funded,” McKinney said. “On the off months, when she wasn’t making trips, she would cook, she helped open laundry houses, she opened a school, she was doing a lot of things to raise money in order to do this.”
During the Civil War, Tubman started as a camp follower and acted as a nurse, laundress, and cook before she was recognized by the higher-ranking soldiers and she became an armed scout and spy for the Union. She became so prominent that southern aristocrats had put a $40,000 bounty on her head. After the war, Tubman was paid $200 and eventually received a pension, which she used to support her family and elderly African Americans in homes on land she had purchased. She eventually married again, adopted a little girl, and continued to support African American and women’s rights until 1911, when she was put in one of the homes she had built, dying only two years later.
People have upheld her legacy in various ways, such as building several statues with her as a prominent figure, putting her on stamps, and on January 10, 2017, her home was declared a National Park. Another recent honor was the decision to make her the new face on the $20 bill.
The attendees of the event asked a few questions throughout the presentation, and several of them commented on how they thought Tubman deserves more recognition.
“An incredibly powerful piece of American history, submerged in the past, but now we are positioning a remarkable woman,” said Cody resident Peter Hassrick.
Amanda Enriquez, the Intercultural Program Manager, introduced the events for Women’s History Month during this event. She talked about the film screening and discussion of Ninah’s Dowry, which was on March 1, a film that starred NWC student Vivian Seikeh and was about the state of women and marriage in Cameroon, Africa, and a presentation by NWC’s assistant professor of physics Deepthi Amarasuriya on the topic of famous women in astronomy, which was on March 9.
“Then we have the “Park County’s Historic Women and Allies March,” so some of the women who participated in the march will be here to just kind of talk about what the purpose behind the march back in January was and how they are moving forward,” Enriquez said. “And then we will have a book discussion at the Powell Library, and then Amy McKinney will actually be hosting another talk on Monday, March 20, at 4 pm, and it will be on women in unions, and we are going to end the month with “Women’s Strength: The Role of Women in Plains Indian Culture,” which we be Hunter Old Elk from the Plains Indian Museum”
You can get the time, location, and full descriptions of these events on NWC’s website, at either the online Calendar or News Desk.