Сatherine Clinton’s biography “Harriet Tubman: The Road to Freedom” is an interesting and comprehensive biography on Harriet Tubman’s life.
Catherine Clinton is a renowned historian with a special interest in black history. Many consider Harriet Tubman as the “Black Moses” of America and for good reason; she has lead hundreds of slaves to freedom, risking her own life for their welfare. This book is truly comprehensive and immersive and focuses on exposing the reality of Harriet Tubman’s life.
Most biographical narratives on Tubman have become predominantly focused on her myth, we all know her as the mastermind of the “underground railroad”, but many aspects of her life have become forgotten. This narrative really focuses on Harriet Tubman, her trials and triumphs, and the truth about one of the most powerful women in American history. The reality of Harriet Tubman’s life is an inspirational and motivating story, one that exceeds her mythological legacy. The purpose of this book was to recreate a historically accurate, and complete portrayal of Harriet Tubman.
Clinton first introduces the world in which Harriet Tubman lived in. The book also delves into the topics of social history of American slavery and the antislavery movement, and how Harriet Tubman greatly fought for this cause. Clinton tells the story of Tubman’s struggles and her life around the greater battle for emancipation that was occurring in America. Clinton provides a general overview of conditions for slaves along the Eastern shore; and how Harriet must have lived during her early life.
Harriet Tubman was very much an ordinary woman, with the normal complexities of ordinary life. However, her extraordinary accomplishments are how she is remembered today. However, Harriet Tubman endured travails that all human beings endure. However, what made Harriet Tubman so extraordinary was her strength and courage in facing the realities of life, and the dangers she exposed herself to be very real. Her character truly defines and speaks volumes about who she truly was, rather than her accomplishments. The primary subject of the book is Harriet Tubman herself.
Tubman was born during the “era of good feeling”, a historical period within American history of peace and prosperity. This of course did not apply to African Americans, whose lives were still controlled solely in the hands of their white owners. Clinton narrates Tubman’s journey from being born a slave in Maryland to her daring escape to Canada, her daring journeys back to the United States and the already glorified endeavors of the Underground Railroad. Clinton also explains how Tubman’s husband John Tubman had a substantial influence on Harriet.
They were married as teens in Maryland, Clinton says that their early marriage was filled with “happiness and repose, they loved each other tenderly and with great passion”. Little has been known about the relationship between these two. Clinton paints a picture of a happy couple torn apart through their conflicting moral values. John Tubman was content to live out his life on the farm. John felt that despite the conditions under which he lived, they were not as worse as comparable circumstances at other farms. His indecisiveness when it came to his personal freedom ultimately led him to refuse to run away with Harriet.
Running away to Canada without John had a profound effect on her and was a turning point in her life. Harriet took a huge risk, one that took a lot of courage and conviction in her ideals to be able to leave her relationship. Harriet, the real human being, is a truly inspirational woman in history and is more than her legacy on the Underground Railroad. The biography really discerns the reality from myth of Harriet Tubman. The majority of the American public knows the story of Harriet Tubman, her courage in helping bring slaves into the north through a dangerous “underground railroad”.
The danger that she faced through this time of trial, her hunted status in the south, and her courage in standing up for African Americans as well as women’s rights are well documented. However, Harriet Tubman was also a real person, and the personal story behind her accomplishments is far more important than her accomplishments. Tubman grew up much like any other slave. She did not receive divine aid, education, nor did she gain certain advantages over other slaves. The fact that she had a husband did not really separate her from others as well.
The fact that Tubman wanted something more and acted upon her vision speaks volumes of her. Harriet Tubman was just as human as anyone else, but her special abilities and her courage arose whenever she needed to. The reason behind her dangerous trips into the heart of the South was that she strongly believed in her moral convictions, and that she put everything into her beliefs. She was an ordinary woman who rose up when called upon to do the extraordinary. The vast majority of people forget that she also lived a normal life, and that what she accomplished is really an inspiring story.
Harriet Tubman’s life is just as fascinating a story as the legacy she left behind. She is not a mythological figure of the African American freedom movement, but rather an ordinary individual who through her life experiences and moral convictions, transformed into a remarkable leader. A great lesson that can be drawn from Tubman’s life is that complacency is the greatest obstacle to our moral convictions. It is all too easy to settle for what we have now, than to work for what we want later.
Tubman reveals that the battle against complacency and the power to dream for a better tomorrow carries with it great hurdles and responsibilities. One has to rise above what one believes is incapable to accomplish their goals. Tubman applied this philosophy throughout her life. Tubman never saw what she did as extraordinary. What one accomplishes always seems incredible to others, but ordinary to those who went through every step of the way. Clinton, Catherine. Harriet Tubman: The Road to Freedom. First Edition. Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 2004.