Cynthia Erivo says ‘Harriet’ film is about ‘a universal hero’
The biopic portraying icon Harriet Tubman, “Harriet,” hit the big screen across the country Friday.
One can learn a great deal about Tubman, as portrayed by Cynthia Erivo, by watching the film. Historian Kate Clifford Larson, who worked on the film, told USA TODAY that she thinks the movie is accurate, though there are some discrepancies.
“It is true to Tubman: Who she was, her character, her deep faith, her love for her family,” Larson says. Tubman escaped slavery and helped roughly 70 others who were enslaved reach freedom through a network of safe houses dubbed the Underground Railroad in the 1800s. And during the Civil War, she liberated more than 750 enslaved people, when she led a battalion of over 150 black soldiers during the Combahee River Raid.
The film is informative about Tubman and her heroic feats, but there is plenty more to learn by visiting museums and destinations in the Maryland and Washington, D.C. areas.
Tubman was born into slavery and lived for the first part of her life in Dorchester County, Maryland, before escaping to freedom. She returned to the area later, time and time again, to rescue family members and friends. There are museums and memorials to Tubman throughout the state.
“You can go to Maryland and see the places where all of this took place in real life,” Larson says.
One way to walk in Tubman’s footsteps while learning about her heroism and her life is by taking a driving tour along the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad Byway.
The Tubman Byway is a self-guided, 125-mile route from Maryland into Delaware and Philadelphia, which was Tubman’s destination on the journey to freedom. There are 36 suggested stops on the Byway in Maryland.
Audio guides and downloadable PDFs are available to guide interested visitors on the Byway website. Guided tours can also be arranged.
- The Byway includes stops at:
- Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad Visitor Center
- The visitor center is located in an area that looks as it would have when Tubman she lived and labored there in slavery. There are 10,000 square feet of exhibits on Tubman in the center.
- Brodess Farm
- Tubman lived at the Brodess Farm during her early years. Later, her enslaver, Edward Brodess, moved her, her siblings and their mother to his farm in Bucktown.
- Bucktown Village Store
- The Byway site lists the store as the site of Tubman’s first act of defiance, where she refused to help an overseer tie up a runaway enslaved man when he broke free. The overseer threw a two-pound weight at Tubman, cracking her skull and nearly killing her.
- Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad Visitor Center
Also be sure to check out the mural of Tubman reaching out her hand Shortly after it was completed this year, a photo of a little girl reaching out to touch Tubman’s hand went viral.
Congress: New York
Harriet Tubman National Historical Park in Auburn, New York, includes the home where Tubman, along with her parents, settled in 1859 when then-U.S. Senator William H. Seward offered her a house and small slice of property for $1,200, to be paid over time. This is where the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church — which accepted Tubman’s donation of her property in 1903 — opened the Harriet Tubman Home for the Elderly in 1908.
This is also where Tubman died in penury of pneumonia on March 10, 1913, at an age somewhere between 88 and 98 years old (records are unclear). She is buried at the Fort Hill Cemetery, just a mile and a half away.
The site was established as a national park in 2017.
A low-slung visitor center holds a display timeline of Tubman’s life and a few artifacts exhumed by Syracuse University students from grounds near the demolished infirmary, John Brown Hall. Tubman’s former brick residence, on the north edge of the property, is gutted, undergoing renovations.
A little more than a mile away, the Thompson AME Zion Church where Tubman worshiped and where her funeral services were held, and the parsonage beside it on Parker Street, are both undergoing renovations by the National Park Service.
Congress: Washington, D.C.
While Larson says that Tubman didn’t spend much time in Washington, D.C., during her life, apart from a stint helping out at an orphanage in Georgetown, the nation’s capital is rich in resources for learning about Tubman.
The Library of Congress houses multiple portraits of Tubman in their collection, along with books, manuscripts and a research guide.
“Harriet Tubman’s life was so complex that it is helpful to have multiple images, made at different times, to help visualize her as a living, active person,” Beverly Brannan, Library of Congress curator of photography told USA TODAY.
In the Library’s earliest portrait of Tubman, created in the 1860s, she is in her mid-40s and dressed fashionably in a dark blouse and light skirt.
“One can imagine her being courageous and vigorously leading people through dangerous situations at night,” Brannan adds. “That is close to how she looked in the most physically challenging time of her life.”
The National Museum of African American History and Culture houses other artifacts from Tubman’s life including:
- A silk and lace shawl given to Tubman by Queen Victoria.
- Items from Tubman’s household.
- Tubman’s personal hymnal.
Larson adds that while there are just a few items related to Tubman, the entire museum is important to see and relevant to understand Tubman’s life, given that it depicts African American history and what enslaved people endured.
Other museums that feature information on the famous abolitionist include:
- International Spy Museum
- The “Who Would Have Guessed?” exhibit features Tubman’s accolades as a Civil War spy.
- National Portrait Gallery
- There are multiple portraits of Tubman included in the gallery’s collection such as a wood engraving of Tubman.
- Madame Tussauds
- The museum has a wax figure of Tubman on display.
For those who can’t make a trip, the Library of Congress offers a great deal of material on Tubman online in a digital collection, and there are plenty of other resources on the internet to learn about Tubman and her life.
Contributing: Meaghan M. McDermott, Rochester Democrat and Chronicle
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