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Harriet Tubman: The Road to Freedom af…

Harriet Tubman: The Road to Freedom (udgave 2005)

af Catherine Clinton (Forfatter)

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394560,928 (3.73)3
A biography of the fugitive slave turned "conductor" on the Underground Railroad describes Tubman's youth in the South, her escape to Philadelphia, her efforts to liberate slaves, and her work for the Union Army.
Titel:Harriet Tubman: The Road to Freedom
Forfattere:Catherine Clinton (Forfatter)
Info:Back Bay Books (2005), Edition: Illustrated, 304 pages
Samlinger:Dit bibliotek

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Harriet Tubman: The Road to Freedom af Catherine Clinton


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Review of: Harriet Tubman: The Road to Freedom, by Catherine Clinton
by Stan Prager (7-16-23)

In 2016, Jack Lew, President Obama’s treasury secretary, announced a redesign of the twenty-dollar bill that would feature on its front a likeness of Harriet Tubman, arguably the most significant African American female of the Civil War era, while displacing Andrew Jackson, who not only owned slaves but championed the institution of human chattel slavery, and was likewise a driving force behind the Indian Removal Act, one of the most shameful episodes in our national saga. Immediate controversy ensued, which was ratcheted up when Donald Trump stepped into the White House. Many have correctly styled Trump as having almost no sense of history, but he did seem to have had a kind of boyhood crush on Jackson, who like Trump did whatever he liked with little regard for the consequences to others, especially the weak and powerless. Trump relocated a portrait of Jackson to a position of prominence in the Oval Office, and his new treasury secretary postponed the currency redesign, almost certainly an echo of Trump’s campaign grievance that putting Tubman on the bill was nothing but “pure political correctness.” Meanwhile, resistance on the left grew, as well, as many pointed to the disrespect of putting the face of one who was formerly enslaved on legal tender that is a direct descendant of that once used to buy and sell human beings. Then there is the paradox in the redesign that puts Tubman on the obverse while maintaining Jackson’s presence on the reverse side of the bill, perhaps reflecting with a dose of disturbing irony the glaring sense of polarization that manifests the national character these days, much as it did in Tubman’s time. Still, the Biden Administration has pledged to accelerate the pace of issuing the new currency, but there remains no sign that anyone will be buying groceries with Tubman twenties anytime soon. We can only imagine what Harriet Tubman, who was illiterate and lived most of her life in poverty, would make of all this!
A dozen years before all this hoopla over who will adorn the paper money, acclaimed historian Catherine Clinton published Harriet Tubman: The Road to Freedom [2004], a well-written, engaging study that turns out to be one of a string of books on Tubman to hit the press nearly at the same—the others are by Kate Larson and Jean Humez—which collectively represented the first scholarly biographies of her life in more than six decades. (There have since been additional contributions to the historiography.) Surprisingly, Tubman proves a tough subject to chronicle: a truly larger-than-life heroic figure who can be credited with verifiable exploits to free the enslaved both before and during the Civil War—admirers nicknamed her “Moses” for her role in spiriting fugitives to freedom, and she was later dubbed “General” by John Brown—her achievements have also long been distorted by myth and embellishment, something nourished early on by a subjective biography of sorts by her friend Sarah Bradford that is said to play loose with facts and events. Then there is the challenge in fashioning an accurate account of someone who spent much of her consequential years living in the shadows, both by the circumstance of anonymity imposed by her condition of enslavement, as well as the deliberate effort to wear a mask of invisibility by one operating outside the law where the penalty for detection would be a return to slavery or, much more likely, death. For the historian, that translates into a delicate—and precarious—balancing act.
Clinton’s approach is to recreate Tubman’s life as close to the colorful adventure it certainly was, without falling victim to sensationalism. She relies on scholarship to sketch the skeletal framework for Tubman’s life, then turns to a variety of sources and reports to put flesh upon it, sharing with the reader when she resorts to surmise to shade aspects of the complexion. In this effort, she largely succeeds.
Born Araminta Ross in Maryland in perhaps 1822—like many of the enslaved she could only guess at her date of birth—Tubman survived an especially brutal upbringing in bondage that witnessed family members sold, a series of vicious beatings and whippings, and a severe head injury incurred in adolescence when a heavy metal weight tossed by an overseer at another struck her instead, which left her with a lingering dizziness, headaches, seizures, and what was likely chronic hypersomnia, a neurological disorder of excessive sleepiness. It also spawned vivid dreams and visions that reinforced religious convictions that God was communicating with her. By then, she was no stranger to physical abuse. Tubman was first hired out as a nursemaid when she herself was only about five years old, responsible for rocking a baby while it slept. If the baby woke and cried she was lashed as punishment. She recalled once being whipped five times before breakfast. She was left scarred for life. Tubman’s experiences serve as a strong rebuke to those deluded by “Lost Cause” narratives that would cast antebellum slavery as a benign institution.
Despite her harsh treatment at the hands of various enslavers, Tubman proved strong and resilient. Rather than break her, the cruelties she endured galvanized her, sustained by a religious devotion infused with Old Testament promises of deliverance. Still enslaved, she married John Tubman, a free black man, and changed her first name to Harriet shortly thereafter. When she fled to freedom in Philadelphia a few short years later, he did not accompany her. Tubman’s journey out of slavery was enabled by the so-called “Underground Railroad,” a route of safehouses hosted by sympathetic abolitionists and their allies.
For most runaways, that would be the end of the story, but for Tubman it proved just the beginning. Committed to liberating her family and friends, Tubman covertly made more than a dozen missions back to Maryland over a period of eight years and ultimately rescued some seventy individuals, while also confiding escape methods to dozens of others who successfully absconded. In the process, as Clinton points out, she leapfrogged from the role as a “conductor” on the Underground Railroad to an “abductor.” Now known to many as Moses, she was a master of disguise and subterfuge; the illiterate Tubman once famously pretended to read a newspaper in order to avoid detection. To those who knew her, she seemed to be utterly fearless. She carried a pistol, not only to defend herself against slavecatchers if needed, but also to threaten the fainthearted fugitive who entertained notions of turning back. She never lost a passenger.
At the same time, Harriet actively campaigned for abolition, which brought her into the orbit of John Brown, who dubbed her “General Tubman.” Unlike other antislavery allies, she concurred with his advocacy for armed insurrection, and she proved a valuable resource for him with her detailed knowledge of support networks in border states. Brown’s raid on Harper’s Ferry was, of course, a failure, and Brown was hanged, but her admiration for the man never diminished. With the onset of the Civil War, Tubman volunteered to help “contrabands” living in makeshift refugee camps, and also served as a nurse before immersing herself in intelligence-gathering activities. Most spectacularly, Tubman led an expedition of United States Colored Troops (USCT) on the remarkable 1863 Combahee River Raid in South Carolina that freed 750 of the formerly enslaved—then recruited more than 100 of them to enlist to fight for Union. She is thus credited as the first woman to lead American forces in combat! She was even involved with Colonel Robert Gould Shaw in his preparations for the assault on Fort Wagner, later dramatized in the film Glory. When the war ended, Tubman went on to lobby for women’s suffrage, and died in her nineties in 1913—the end of a life that was given to legend because so very much of it more closely resembled imagined epic than authentic experience.
In this biography, Clinton the historian wrestles against the myth, yet sometimes seems seduced by it. She reports claims of the numbers of the enslaved Tubman liberated that seem exaggerated, and references enormous sums slaveowners offered as reward for her capture that defy documented evidence. There’s also a couple of egregious factual errors that any student of the Civil War would stumble upon with mouth agape: she misidentifies the location of the battle of Shiloh from Tennessee to Virginia, and declares Delaware a free state, which would have been a surprise to the small but yet enduring population of the enslaved that lived there. For these blunders, I am inclined to give Clinton the benefit of the doubt; she is an esteemed scholar who likely relied on a lousy editor. Perhaps these mistakes have been corrected in later editions.
In June 2023, shortly after I read this volume, I had the pleasure to sit in on Catherine Clinton’s lecture on the life of Harriet Tubman at the Civil War Institute (CWI) Summer Conference at Gettysburg College. Unlike all too many academics, Clinton is hardly dull on stage, and her presentation was as lively and colorful as her subject certainly must have been in the days when she walked the earth. During a tangent that drifted to the currency controversy, she noted that one of the more superficial objections to the rebranding of the twenty was that there are no existing images of Tubman smiling, something Clinton—grinning mischievously—reminded the audience should hardly be surprising since Harriet once dealt with a toothache while smuggling human beings out of bondage by knocking her own tooth out with her pistol, an episode recounted in the book, as well. Harriet Tubman’s life was an extraordinary one. If you want to learn more, pick up Clinton’s book.

I reviewed an earlier book by Clinton here: Review of: Tara Revisited: Women, War & The Plantation Legend, by Catherine Clinton

Review of: Harriet Tubman: The Road to Freedom, by Catherine Clinton – Regarp Book Blog https://regarp.com/2023/07/16/review-of-harriet-tubman-the-road-to-freedom-by-ca... ( )
  Garp83 | Jul 16, 2023 |
I am sure many biographies have been written about Harriet Tubman, but this is the first one I have read. It began slowly, but eventually I appreciated that because it set the scene in the South in the 1850s before the Civil War and helped me understand her actions. Also, this book explains how little is really known about her early life and that much is speculation. The part that Canada played in the lives of slaves was interesting. I never knew that slaves moved there to protect themselves from being captured and returned to their owners. Harriet Tubman was a true American hero and her determination to free slaves and gain access to what we now consider basic American rights — human rights! — is so inspiring. ( )
  krazy4katz | Sep 10, 2021 |
(Reprinted from the Chicago Center for Literature and Photography [cclapcenter.com]. I am the original author of this essay, as well as the owner of CCLaP; it is not being reprinted illegally.)

(UPDATE: Since writing this review, I've learned that US Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew specifically mentioned this book as one of the big reasons his department chose Tubman for the new face of the twenty-dollar bill, high praise indeed for this decade-plus-old volume.)

Like many Americans, when it was announced this year that Harriet Tubman would be the new face of the twenty-dollar bill, I realized with a bit of shame that I didn't actually know anything about Harriet Tubman, minus the half a day in fourth grade when we learned in public school that she had had something to do with the Civil War; and so to rectify this fact before the release of the new currency, I recently picked up Catherine Clinton's 2004 biography of Tubman (amazingly, one of the only Tubman bios expressly for grown-ups ever written in the entirety of history), where I learned that Harriet Tubman was actually a badass who more than earned her right to be on the twenty-dollar bill, especially poignant because she so thoroughly embodies the stubborn, resilient, libertarian mythos of America that Americans so enjoy projecting onto ourselves.

Born a slave in the deep South in the 1820s, Tubman essentially ran away to freedom in her twenties, but this wasn't enough for her; she eventually became one of the only black women ever involved with the famed "Underground Railroad" of the pre-Civil War era, a guerrilla fighter who made rescue missions back into the South at least once a year all the way until the Emancipation Proclamation, doing such smart things as scheduling her raids in the middle of the winter so that as few of the fat, lazy racists down there would want to bother chasing her, and starting fugitive slave flights on Saturday nights, since at the time it was a law that slaves got Sundays off to go to church, which meant that masters would not realize the slaves were missing until Monday morning, and so were not able to get a notice in the local paper about it until Tuesday morning, long after Tubman and her party were gone. This made her singlehandedly responsible for rescuing literally hundreds of former slaves in the years before the Civil War; then when the war actually happened, she became a secret freaking agent for the Union army, using her skills in stealth and intel gathering to give detailed reports to generals about the size and location of Confederate troops they were about to launch attacks on, turning all the battles she was a part of into routs which Union forces overwhelming won with almost no casualties at all. And all of this, mind you, happened before Tubman had even turned forty; then she managed to live for another half-century after all this, becoming the revered civil-rights leader and national hero that she deserved to be honored as.

Make no mistake, Tubman suffered the kinds of Reconstruction-era indignities that all black people did in the years after the war, including it taking literally decades to get the proper compensation from the US government for her wartime activities that she had earned (and had deferred at the time so that the army could buy more supplies and medicine); and her life was not without its own controversies either, including a mysterious young woman in her life who may or may not have been an illegitimate daughter sired from a white father, her public snubbing of Abraham Lincoln during the war for being "soft on abolition," as well as Tubman's full public embrace of avowed terrorist John Brown, to the extent of Brown eventually referring to her as "General Tubman" in his talks about his coming war against the US government. But all that said, it's hard to imagine a more apt person to be brought to the forefront of the US consciousness right now in this newest low point of race relations, a woman who is well worth taking the time to know and understand. This bio is a great place to start, and it comes recommended to those like me who barely know anything about who Tubman was or why you're going to be seeing a lot more of her starting next year. ( )
1 stem jasonpettus | May 18, 2016 |
An excellent biography on this remarkable woman. Worth-reading. Well-written, with a plethora of facts and details about Tubman's life. ( )
  empress8411 | Jan 21, 2014 |
in depth impressive facts about the amazing UnderGround Railroad Conductor
  ah425 | Mar 11, 2008 |
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A biography of the fugitive slave turned "conductor" on the Underground Railroad describes Tubman's youth in the South, her escape to Philadelphia, her efforts to liberate slaves, and her work for the Union Army.

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