By Dan Clendenin
This biographical drama tells the story of the slave Araminta Ross, who after she gained her freedom took the name Harriet Tubman (1822–1913), and then went on to become a legendary abolitionist on the Underground Railroad. The director Kasi Lemmons faced an artistic challenge with this movie, which likely explains its formulaic approach. Although Tubman remains an inspirational hero, she’s also a biographer’s nightmare. Tubman was born as one of nine siblings into a Maryland slave family, she never learned to read or write, and reliable documents about her, especially her early years, are sketchy to non-existent. Tubman was rented out as slave labor when she was about six years old. She later escaped to the north at age 27, then, defying all odds, made as many as nineteen return trips back into slave-holding territories in order to rescue as many as 300 other slaves. She also served in the Civil War as a spy, nurse, and armed soldier. About a year after her death, in 1914 a bronze tablet was laid at her home in the central New York town of Auburn where she lived for forty years, which includes her own description of her life work: “On my Underground Railroad I nebber run off de track and I nebber los’ a passenger.” Stubborn and stoic, dignified and determined, it’s hard to fathom the bravery and brilliance it must have taken to do what she did. Tubman saw visions, heard the voice of God, and dreamed dreams as a fearless woman of faith. She also suffered from acute narcolepsy. By the time she died she was famous. For biographies about Harriet Tubman see Beverly Lowry, Harriet Tubman, A Biography (2007); Harriet Tubman: The Road to Freedom (2004), by Catherine Clinton; and Kate Larsen’s Bound for the Promised Land; Harriet Tubman, Portrait of an American Hero (2004).
Dan Clendenin: firstname.lastname@example.org
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