The Biden administration has revived a plan to put Harriet Tubman on the US$20 bill after Donald Trump’s Treasury secretary delayed the move.
That’s encouraging news to the millions of people who have expressed support for putting her face on the bill. But many still aren’t familiar with the story of Tubman’s life, which was chronicled in a 2019 film, “Harriet.”
Harriet Tubman worked as a slave, spy and eventually an abolitionist. What I find most fascinating, as a historian of American slavery, is how her belief in God helped Tubman remain fearless, even when she came face to face with many challenges.
Tubman’s early life
Tubman was born Araminta Ross in 1822 on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. When interviewed later in life, Tubman said she started working as a housemaid when she was 5. She recalled that she endured whippings, starvation and hard work even before she got to her teenage years.
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She labored in Maryland’s tobacco fields, but things started to change when farmers switched their main crop to wheat.
Grain required less labor, so slave owners began to sell their enslaved people to plantation owners in the Deep South.
Two of Tubman’s sisters were sold to a slave trader. One had to leave her child behind. Tubman, too, lived in fear of being sold.
When she was 22, Tubman married a free black man named John Tubman. For reasons that are unclear, she changed her name, taking her mother’s first name and her husband’s last name. Her marriage did not change her status as an enslaved person.