This Day in Black History: April 20, 1853

Harriet Tubman, abolitionist and activist, started the Underground Railroad on this day.

(Photo: Courtesy Library of Congress)

Hers was a story of bravery and tenacity. Harriet Tubman was an African-American abolitionist who was best known for making 13 missions to take more than 70 slaves from the south to the north. She accomplished that by using a network of anti-slavery activists and homes that were friendly to her cause, a system known as the Underground Railroad. Born in Maryland into slavery, she was beaten by her masters in her youth. She became a devout Christian who said she often had power visions and dreams from God. In 1849, she escaped to Philadelphia and, within a few years, she started to rescue her family, one group at a time. When the Civil War began, Tubman worked for the Union Army, first as a cook and nurse, and then as an armed scout and spy. She was the first woman to lead an armed expedition in the war, having guided the Combahee River Raid, which liberated more than 700 slaves in South Carolina. In her later years, Tubman worked to promote the cause of women’s suffrage, She died in 1913 and became a celebrated American icon after her death.


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