Apr 21

American Badass: Harriet Tubman

The news about Harriet Tubman replacing Andrew Jackson on the $20 bill has brought one of my favorite Americans into the limelight.  Although I’m glad Americans are showing a fleeting interest in history, the white-washed version we got in school doesn’t necessarily highlight what a badass Mrs. Tubman actually was, so i’m going to attempt to send you back a hundred and sixty years to get a feel for what level of sacrifice she actually made…

Your heart is beating furiously in your chest as you suck in huge gulps of the cool and humid night air.  Your feet ache from the pounding of the branches as you run as fast as you can through the woods.  Scratches on your face and neck begin to sting as the sweat pools inside them.  You ran this way to draw the dogs away from your family.  Now you hear them in the distance, closing in on you.  The barking of the hounds makes you think of what they will do if they catch you, and the mere thought of it brings lucid memories and the scars on your back seem to burn once again like fresh wounds.  It pushes you to run harder into the darkness.

The light of the moon and the north star are all you have to guide you, but the tough wooden terrain is slowing you down, and the dogs are only getting closer.  You feel a sense of dread and nervousness, helplessness begins to overcome you and tears well in your eyes.  Fighting back the emotions makes running even more difficult; if they catch you this time, they will surely kill you.  You imagine your little child growing up without you and how someone will have to explain to her that you are never coming back; the thought gives you new determination.

As you hop over a log into a small break in the woods you glance up at the night sky and immediately spot the north star.  The beautiful star that means freedom, that means you will hold your baby one more time and sleep without worry that someone will come for you.  Just like that star, however, freedom feels unreachable, and now you can hear the men’s voices and the hounds.  It seems that no matter how hard you push, they keep closing in, and then you remember a special tip they had given you, “you’ll never beat the dogs, gotta beat the handler instead.”  You spring into action, running left, then right, then back, forward, in a circle, and back to your original position.  “That should make him think the dog has lost the scent,” you think to yourself and take off smiling to your rendezvous.

Exhausted, you reach a trail cutting through the  woods and see “Moses”.  She is standing with a small group, putting them into a cart, a pistol in one hand, your baby in the other.  You let out a sigh of relief and hop out of the trees onto the trail.  Moses spins on a dime and you’re face to face with her, staring right into the barrel of her pistol.  There’s a moment as you stare into her eyes that you realize why she never loses a passenger.  There is no hesitation, remorse, or fear, she is focused, determined, and steely-eyed.  “Get in,” Harriet’s words signify the end of your enslavement as you take your baby in your arms.

Harriet was dubbed the “Moses” of the underground railroad and had a perfect record of never losing a soul in her many trips out of slave states.  She knew the terrain, moved like a ghost in the woods, mentally strong, and physically tough, always ready to defend herself and her passengers with deadly force if necessary.

“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.”

If I could sum up what the essence of being an American is, I would say “liberty or death.”  We churn out the toughest motherfuckers on the planet because we are willing to fight and die free men before we will live long lives as slaves.  Mrs. Tubman is, in my opinion, part of an elite few that through their example we can learn what freedom really is.

She didn’t only fight to free slaves in the underground railroad though, she was also a union soldier.  Oh yes!  She led a group of long range scouts in South Carolina, feeding key terrain characteristics and intelligence to union generals.  I want you to fully understand the badassery of that.  She was a black woman leading a small band of men through the heart of the deep south.  The fact that a non-white was leading troops, and even more so that she was a woman, is a testament to her great skill!


When the war was over, she joined yet another movement and fought for the right of women to vote.

Look, here is a woman that was born a slave, escaped several times, helped others escape, led men in battle fighting for her freedom, then fought peacefully for her right to vote.  She started at nothing and is a century later a household name.

Given the choice between a slave owning president who grew the federal government and the moses of the underground railroad…well, this here Cuban-American would be honored to carry around a reminder of American grit in my wallet!

Harriet Tubman $20 bill




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  2. AT

    I was very pleased with your tribute to Mrs. Tubman. From one history lover to another, I think you did a short but wonderful highlight of her life and accomplishments. She is someone that deserves national recognition as well as being someone we should all admire.

    However, I am pretty dissapointed that you were so quick to support such a “politically correct” decision. And if you can look me in the face and say that you honestly believe that the choice (by our clown show government) to put her on the $20.00 bill is of the upmost importance then I will retract everything I am about to say.

    I find it very hard to believe, in the wake of all our other national issues, that our elected officials need to be focused on such trivial matters. Quite frankly, I could care less who is on my 20’s as long as they are still worth twenty!

    With our national debt as it stands, we might just want to be more concerned with what that paper is “worth.” I am not in the business of carrying around “bills,” but rather in earning them and then spending them (regardless of who’s portrait it contains). Sure, it would be nice to see a flawless person on my currency but I doubt we will see Jesus Christ on a bill or coin anytime soon. Caesar wasn’t perfect but I would gladly take any gold coin with his face on it. Why, because the currency is worth something beyond politics. And just in case you want to still go that route. There might not even be a U.S. Currency to put Mrs. Tubman’s face on if it weren’t for men like Jackson. Well, maybe that isn’t completely true. I guess you could have been arguing that Mrs. Tubman was more worthy than some royal Brit.

    Lastly, you finished that “Sunday” off with the proverbial “cherry” when you said, “this Cuban-American would be honored….” As a lover of history and someone who prides themselves on knowing a little about where my family (and subsequently me) came from, I do not judge people for being proud of their lineage. However, until we simply see ourselves as “Americans” instead of as some particular type of American, we will continue to suffer from divisions that are only skin deep. I am neither defending Andrew Jackson (who by the way you only described as a slave owning white man without acknowledging that he; Served in the American Revolutionary War and in the War of 1812; that he was the first Senator from Tennessee and the first Governor of Florida; that he helped found the Democratic Party and was the first Democratic President; or that he was the only president censured by the Senate and the first president targeted for an assassination; or that he paid off the national debt while in office!). Neither am I saying that Mrs. Tubman isn’t worthy of being on U.S. Currency. What I am saying, is that you were more emotionally charged than logical in this post (compared to some others). I would have been much more impressed if you would have not changed a thing about your post until the end. If you truly believe Mrs. Tubman should be on our currency then you could have mentioned that 3 presidents are presently on multiple currencies. You could have still made the arguement for Mrs Tubman to be on some form of currency without removing an existing national leader completely. If your true intent, however, was to suggest that Andrew Jackson is not worthy to be on our currency, then you should have taken a little more time to formulate that arguement as you grossly over simplified the man. He, like the rest of us, was not perfect, but to undermine his contributions is just a bit unfair.


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