Harriet Tubman

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I looked at my hands, to see if I was the same person now I was free. There was such a glory over everything, the sun came like gold through the trees, and over the fields, and I felt like I was in heaven.

Harriet Tubman (c. 1822 – 10 March 1913), also known as Moses, was an African-American abolitionist. An escaped slave, she worked as a farmhand, lumberjack, laundress, cook, refugee organizer, raid leader, intelligence gatherer, nurse, healer, revival speaker, feminist, fundraiser, and conductor on the Underground Railroad.

Quotes[edit]

I had crossed the line of which I had so long been dreaming. I was free; but there was no one to welcome me to the land of freedom, I was a stranger in a strange land.
  • I prayed all night long for my master. Till the first of March; and all the time he was bringing people to look at me, and trying to sell me. I changed my prayer. First of March I began to pray, 'Oh Lord, if you ain't never going to change that man's heart, kill him, Lord, and take him out of the way'.
    • As quoted in Scenes in the Life of Harriet Tubman (1971), by Sarah Hopkins Bradford, Freeport: Books for Libraries Press, pp. 14-15.
  • I can't die but once.
    • As quoted in The Underground Railroad (1987) by Charles L. Blockson
  • I was the conductor of the Underground Railroad for eight years, and I can say what most conductors can't say — I never ran my train off the track and I never lost a passenger.
    • As quoted in Women's Words : The Columbia Book of Quotations by Women (1996) by Mary Biggs, p. 2

1880s[edit]

Harriet, The Moses of Her People (1886)[edit]

Quotations of Tubman from Harriet, The Moses of Her People (1886) by Sarah H. Bradford
  • I looked at my hands, to see if I was de same person now I was free. Dere was such a glory over everything, de sun came like gold trou de trees, and over de fields, and I felt like I was in heaven.
    • On realizing that she had passed out of the slavery states into the northern states
    • Modernized rendition: I looked at my hands to see if I was the same person. There was such a glory over everything. The sun came up like gold through the trees, and over the fields, and I felt like I was in heaven.
  • I knew of a man who was sent to the State Prison for twenty-five years. All these years he was always thinking of his home, and counting by years, months, and days, the time till he should be free, and see his family and friends once more. The years roll on, the time of imprisonment is over, the man is free. He leaves the prison gates, he makes his way to his old home, but his old home is not there. The house in which he had dwelt in his childhood had been torn down, and a new one had been put up in its place; his family were gone, their very name was forgotten, there was no one to take him by the hand to welcome him back to life.
    So it was wid me. I had crossed de line of which I had so long been dreaming. I was free; but dere was no one to welcome me to de land of freedom, I was a stranger in a strange land, and my home after all was down in de old cabin quarter, wid de ole folks, and my brudders and sisters. But to dis solemn resolution I came; I was free, and dey should be free also; I would make a home for dem in de North, and de Lord helping me, I would bring dem all dere. Oh, how I prayed den, lying all alone on de cold, damp ground; 'Oh, dear Lord,' I said, 'I haint got no friend but you. Come to my help, Lord, for I'm in trouble!'
    • Modernized rendition: So it was with me. I had crossed the line of which I had so long been dreaming. I was free; but there was no one to welcome me to the land of freedom, I was a stranger in a strange land, and my home after all was down in the old cabin quarter, with the old folks, and my brothers and sisters. But to this solemn resolution I came; I was free, and they should be free also; I would make a home for them in the North, and the Lord helping me, I would bring them all there. Oh, how I prayed then, lying all alone on the cold damp ground; 'Oh, dear Lord', I said. I haven't got no friend but you. Come to my help Lord, for I'm in trouble!
  • Oh, Lord! You've been wid me in six troubles, don't desert me in the seventh!
    • Modernized rendition: Oh, Lord! You've been with me in six troubles, don't desert me in the seventh!


Disputed[edit]

  • I freed thousands of slaves. I could have freed thousands more, if they had known they were slaves.
    • As quoted in Africana: The Encyclopedia of the African and African American Experience (1999) by Henry Louis Gates and Kwame Anthony Appiah, p. 299. Unfortunately, Tubman specialists like Jean H. Humez and Kate Clifford Larson deem this one completely spurious. See "Bogus Tubman," by Steve Perisho.
  • Children, if you are tired, keep going; if you are hungry, keep going; if you want to taste freedom, keep going.
    • "Harriet Tubman never said this — it comes from one of the scores of juvenile Harriet Tubman fictionalized biographies." — Kate Larson, Harriet Tubman biographer.[citation needed]
  • I love all of the african americans like they are my children.
    • "African american" seems an ananchronistic term here, as the term was seldom used before the 1970s.

Quotes about Tubman[edit]

Excepting John Brown... I know of no one who has willingly encountered more perils and hardships to serve our enslaved people. ~ Frederick Douglass
I bring you one of the best and bravest persons on this continent — General Tubman as we call her. ~ John Brown
Alphabetized by author
  • I bring you one of the best and bravest persons on this continent — General Tubman as we call her.
    • John Brown, introducing her to Wendell Phillips, as quoted in The Underground Railroad from Slavery to Freedom (1898) by Wilbur Henry Siebert, p. 185
  • When she made it to freedom after having been a slave and she got to New York and she could have been so happy to just stay at home and just breathe a big sigh of relief but she kept going back down South to bring other freed slaves to freedom. And she used to say, "No matter what happens, keep going."
  • Most that I have done and suffered in the service of our cause has been in public, and I have received much encouragement at every step of the way. You, on the other hand, have labored in a private way. I have wrought in the day — you in the night. I have had the applause of the crowd and the satisfaction that comes of being approved by the multitude, while the most that you have done has been witnessed by a few trembling, scarred, and foot-sore bondmen and women, whom you have led out of the house of bondage, and whose heartfelt " God bless you " has been your only reward. The midnight sky and the silent stars have been the witnesses of your devotion to freedom and of your heroism. Excepting John Brown — of sacred memory — I know of no one who has willingly encountered more perils and hardships to serve our enslaved people than you have. Much that you have done would seem improbable to those who do not know you as I know you. It is to me a great pleasure and a great privilege to bear testimony to your character and your works, and to say to those to whom you may come, that I regard you in every way truthful and trustworthy.
  • I never met any person of any color who had more confidence in the voice of God.
    • Thomas Garrett, as quoted in Sounding Forth the Trumpet : 1837-1860 by Peter Marshall and David Manuel, p. 358
  • We have had the greatest heroine of the age here, Harriet Tubman, a black woman, and a fugitive slave, who has been back eight times secretly and brought out in all sixty slaves with her, including all her own family, besides aiding many more in other ways to escape. Her tales of adventure are beyond anything in fiction and her ingenuity and generalship are extraordinary. I have known her for some time and mentioned her in speeches once or twice — the slaves call her Moses. She has had a reward of twelve thousand dollars offered for her in Maryland and will probably be burned alive whenever she is caught, which she probably will be, first or last, as she is going again. She has been in the habit of working in hotels all summer and laying up money for this crusade in the winter. She is jet black and cannot read or write, only talk, besides acting.
    • Thomas Wentworth Higginson in a letter to his mother (17 June 1859), as published in Letters and Journals of Thomas Wentworth Higginson, 1846-1906 (1921), p. 81
  • Indeed, if juries do not have the right and power to nullify the law, we must face the fact that Harriet Tubman, one of the great heroines of American history, would and should have been guilty of multiple federal crimes by violating the fugitive slave laws. That is a morally revolting prospect, but judges today who reject nullification must confess that they would enforce the fugitive slave laws and convict Harriet Tubman. If they were to honestly admit as much, and hold themselves powerless to disobey unjust and morally despicable laws, they should be told that "obeying orders" was not accepted as a defense in the Nazi war crime trials at Nuremberg.
  • Harriet Tubman, like John Mason, did not reckon the value of her own liberty in comparison with the liberty of others who had not tasted its sweets. Like him, she saw in the oppression of her race the sufferings of the enslaved Israelites, and was not slow to demand that the Pharaoh of the South should let her people go. She was known to many of the anti-slavery leaders of her generation; her personality and her power were such that none of them ever forgot the high virtues of this simple black woman.
  • I have known Harriet long, and a nobler, higher spirit or a truer, seldom dwells in human form.
  • I am where I am because of the bridges that I crossed. Sojourner Truth was a bridge. Harriet Tubman was a bridge. Ida B. Wells was a bridge. Madam C. J. Walker was a bridge. Fannie Lou Hamer was a bridge.
    • Oprah Winfrey, as quoted in Chicken Soup for the African American Woman's Soul (2006) by Jack Canfield, Mark Victor Hansen and Lisa Nichols, p. 1
  • Herself born a slave, she first tasted the sweets of liberty in 1849. She subsequently made nineteen excursions south and brought off over three hundred fugitives from bondage.
    • W. H. Withrow, in "The Underground Railway" (27 May 1902) as published in Proceedings and Transactions of the Royal Society of Canada, Second series, Vol. 8 (1902), p. 61

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