A concise primer for adults who know the name Harriet Tubman (c. 1822-1913) but want to know more.
Dunbar (History/Rutgers Univ.)—whose second book, Never Caught: The Washingtons’ Relentless Pursuit of Their Runaway Slave, Ona Judge (2017), was a co-winner of the 2018 Frederick Douglass Book Award—is more concerned with letting history come alive than burying it beneath the trappings of academic scholarship—though the notes and bibliography show that she has done her homework. “Here then, presented in a way that I hope is accessible, informative, contemporary, and full of black girl magic, is the multidimensional story of Harriet Tubman Davis, a true boss lady, a superhero, and a warrior,” writes Dunbar in the opening author’s note. From a girlhood bout of epilepsy and a head injury that gave her seizures to her strong religious convictions, Tubman felt that she was guided by “visions and images that predicted the future,” dreams that would alert her to danger and guide her actions “literally for the rest of her life.” Dunbar thus makes the same leap of faith that Tubman did (and encourages readers to do so, as well): to give her mission a sense of divine guidance and purpose. During her life, her God worked in mysterious ways, responding to her prayers to end the life of the 47-year-old slave owner who was planning to put her and some of her brothers on the auction block. She prayed for his death, her prayers were answered, and “Harriet’s immediate reaction to the news was pure joy.” Her single-minded conviction and fortitude not only served her well as a runaway slave who helped so many others escape; they guided her through a life of service, tending to the medical care of Civil War soldiers, fighting for suffrage, and working to establish a home for the aged and indigent. With illustrations and catchy asides enhancing the conversational style, this smoothly readable narrative tells a story kept alive through oral tradition for decades.
Perfect for Tubman novices but also enjoyable historical reading for those who already know most of the stories.