Why Harriet Tubman's inspirational legacy will outlive us all


March 2022 marks the bicentennial anniversary of the birth of Harriet Tubman, who died on the 10th of March in 1913. Last week some of us saw an opportunity to celebrate her profound life. But why is it that we continue to adore, celebrate and take inspiration from this exceptional woman almost seven generations later? Read on to find out.

Tubman is and will continue to be a household name. She is more popular across the pond, especially in Maryland in America – where she was born on the Eastern Shore in Dorchester County – who proclaimed last week Saturday that 2022 is “The Year of Harriet Tubman”. Her valiant activities greatly impacted U.S history and its abolition of slavery, however her story is undeniably a force of motivation for anybody anywhere in the world who has the chance to dip into it.

Slavery was widespread throughout the southern states of America in 1820 and according to the U.S. census at that time, the slave population was 1,538,000. By the 1930 U.S. census, the slave population had risen to 2,009,043.

Born a slave in the early 1820’s on Anthony Thompson’s plantation, Harriet’s story begins at the height of America’s colonisation of Africans. She was originally Araminta “Minty” Ross but later changed her name in 1849 when she escaped to the North. Tubman walked 100 miles to freedom all on her own: combatting darkness, the threat of wolves, extreme levels of hunger and the slave owners who tried to track her down; she also could not read.

She believed it was God’s voice that guided her to Pennsylvania, Harriet experienced a brutal head injury aged 13 and began to experience ‘visions from above’ including one in which three of her sisters were separated from her while she recovered. It was these visions that led her on her path to freeing other enslaved people only a year after her own self-liberation.

During her lifetime Harriet rescued over 300 slaves and never lost a single passenger. She was nicknamed ‘Moses’ and became a serious threat to many plantations as runaway slaves became commonplace, heavily impacting the earnings of southern slave owners. Over a ten-year span, from 1850 to 1860, she made 19 perilous yet successful trips.

Tubman’s work extended into the American Civil War of 1861-65 where she became a spy for the Union Army and a commander of 150 Black soldiers in the Combahee River Raid which resulted in the freedom of over 750 slaves. Tubman to this day remains to be one of the few women in U.S. history to lead an armed expedition. She later dedicated her life to helping freed slaves, the elderly and Women’s Suffrage. Harriet Tubman died surrounded by loved ones on March 10th, 1913, at approximately 91 years of age.

Today there are still many organisations in place to ensure her legacy does not go forgotten. Harriet Tubman Day is a nationally recognised holiday in America which occurs annually on the 10th of March to honour her courageous activism and a biopic film directed by Kasi Lemmons was released in 2019. Movements such as GirlTrek’s Global Walk for Harriet Tubman builds on the celebrations while encouraging Black women and girls around the world to commit an act of ‘radical self care’ in order to combat the health crises facing us.

As quoted from their solemn undertaking, they vow that: “Harriet Tubman taught us this: Never ask permission to save your own life. If she could walk her way to freedom, we can walk our way to better health.” This pledge inspired us here in the U.K. to walk alongside our American counterparts and while we did not quite make the 100 miles they succeeded in 2018, we can most definitely commit to making an effort each year on the 10th of March in commemoration of the risky treks Harriet made again and again in order to save the lives of others.

Did you walk for Harriet or are you hoping to next year? Get in touch with us on our social media to share how her legacy has inspired you. If Harriet can walk to freedom what can you do?

Meesha Cru-Hall