Harriet Tubman Day is observed annually on March 10, the anniversary of the freedom fighter’s death. Born enslaved, Harriet Tubman liberated herself and became a free woman who then devoted her life to helping others achieve the same freedom by guiding those escaping slavery through the Underground Railroad, a secret network of safe houses along the journey north to freedom. Tubman is famous around the world for her heroism, bravery, and commitment to the fight for abolition and racial justice.
In March of 1990, Congress adopted into law a national holiday to celebrate the life and achievements of Harriet Tubman. A presidential proclamation from President George H. W. Bush was issued on March 9, 1990, designating March 10, 1990 as the first Harriet Tubman Day. In 2013, with his presidential proclamation, President Barack Obama established the first national monument to honor Tubman and the Underground Railroad under the Antiquities Act. The monument stands in Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad National Historical Park in Dorchester County, Maryland, where Tubman was born and often returned on her journeys leading enslaved people to freedom.
Harriet Tubman was born Araminta “Minty” Ross in March sometime between 1820 and 1822 to Benjamin Ross and Harriet Green on a plantation located in Dorchester Country in New Maryland. She changed her name to Harriet Tubman after her first marriage to John Tubman. She gained her freedom upon escaping the plantation in 1849. She quickly returned to Maryland and conducted her first rescue mission through the Underground Railroad in December of 1850, less than one year after gaining her own freedom. She operated as the Railroad’s most skilled conductor until 1860, returning to Maryland approximately thirteen times; her codename was “Moses” in reference to the Biblical liberator of the enslaved. In those ten years, Harriet Tubman helped about 70 enslaved people escape without a single “passenger” loss.
Tubman became a prominent abolitionist figure and delivered speeches on her experiences at numerous women’s rights and abolitionist conventions; transcripts of these speeches are lost as Tubman was often featured under a pseudonym, and was herself illiterate. Tubman joined the Civil War service in 1860 as a nurse, scout, and spy in the Union Army. After the war, she established the Harriet Tubman Home for the Aged. Harriet Tubman passed away in 1913 after battling pneumonia. Her last words to loved ones were: “I go to prepare a place for you.”
You can learn more about Harriet Tubman’s achievements and legacy by checking out the following:
Harriet Tubman National Historical Park (New York)
Harriet Tubman: Conductor on the Underground Railroad – Library of Congress Blog
Harriet Tubman: A Resource Guide – Library of Congress