Best Known For
Harriet Tubman escaped slavery to become a leading abolitionist. She led hundreds of enslaved people to freedom along the route of the Underground Railroad.
Harriet Tubman - Union Spy (1:44)
During the Civil War Harriet Tubman volunteered to be a spy for the Union and successfully aided the Union in its effort to win the war.
Artist Alison Saar created a memorial statue to Harriet Tubman in Harlem to honor all that she did and the many lives she saved.
Frederick Douglass escaped slavery in 1838 and used his talents as a writer and orator to fight for emancipation. Douglass edited an abolitionist newspaper, recruited black regiments during the Civil War, and advised President Lincoln.
A short biography of Frederick Douglass who escaped from slavery to become the leading voice in the Abolitionist Movement and other social reforms involving inequality.
Think you know about Biography?
Answer questions and see how you rank against other players.Play Now
Harriet Tubman was an American bondwoman who escaped from slavery in the South to become a leading abolitionist before the American Civil War. She was born in Maryland in 1820, and successfully escaped in 1849. Yet she returned many times to rescue both family members and non-relatives from the plantation system. She led hundreds to freedom in the North as the most famous "conductor" on the Underground Railroad, an elaborate secret network of safe houses organized for that purpose.
"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."
"I had reasoned this out in my mind, there was one of two things I had a right to, liberty or death; if I could not have one, I would have the other."
"I grew up like a neglected weed – ignorant of liberty, having no experience of it."
"I freed a thousand slaves. I could have freed a thousand more, if only they knew they were slaves."
"Oh, Lord! You've been with me in six troubles, don't desert me in the seventh!"
Harriet Tubman was born to enslaved parents in Dorchester County, Maryland, and originally named Araminta Harriet Ross. Her mother, Harriet “Rit” Green, was owned by Mary Pattison Brodess. Her father, Ben Ross, was owned by Anthony Thompson, who eventually married Mary Brodess. Araminta, or “Minty,” was one of nine children born to Rit and Ben between 1808 and 1832. While the year of Araminta’s birth is unknown, it probably occurred between 1820 and 1825.
Minty’s early life was full of hardship. Mary Brodess’ son Edward sold three of her sisters to distant plantations, severing the family. When a trader from Georgia approached Brodess about buying Rit’s youngest son, Moses, Rit successfully resisted the further fracturing of her family, setting a powerful example for her young daughter.
Physical violence was a part of daily life for Tubman and her family. The violence she suffered early in life caused permanent physical injuries. Harriet later recounted a particular day when she was lashed five times before breakfast. She carried the scars for the rest of her life. The most severe injury occurred when Tubman was an adolescent. Sent to a dry-goods store for supplies, she encountered a slave who had left the fields without permission. The man’s overseer demanded that Tubman help restrain the runaway. When Harriet refused, the overseer threw a two-pound weight that struck her in the head. Tubman endured seizures, severe headaches and narcoleptic episodes for the rest of her life. She also experienced intense dream states, which she classified as religious experiences.
The line between freedom and slavery was hazy for Tubman and her family. Harriet Tubman’s father, Ben, was freed from slavery at the age of 45, as stipulated in the will of a previous owner. Nonetheless, Ben had few options but to continue working as a timber estimator and foreman for his former owners. Although similar manumission stipulations applied to Rit and her children, the individuals who owned the family chose not to free them. Despite his free status, Ben had little power to challenge their decision.
By the time Harriet reached adulthood, around half of the African-American people on the eastern shore of Maryland were free. It was not unusual for a family to include both free and enslaved people, as did Tubman’s immediate family. In 1844, Harriet married a free black man named John Tubman. Little is known about John Tubman or his marriage to Harriet. Any children they might have had would have been considered enslaved, since the mother’s status dictated that of any offspring.
Visit the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, a leading research institute for the history and culture of people of African descent.
Learn more about the lives of African-Americans who have made extraordinary achievements in their fields, with our collection of Black History Groups.
Explore our curated collections of African-American figures, including:
Flip through these photos of some of Black History's most important, controversial and inspiring figures. Check out our African-American Firsts - Athletes, Black Comedians, Million-Dollar Ideas, African-American Biopics, African-American Expats, or explore all of our Black History photos.
Celebrate the historical icons of America's black community through this interactive journey.
- Apollo Theater Interactive Tour
- Apollo Theater Timeline
- Path to Equality
- Who Am I Game
- Harlem Renaissance