Introduction

In 1986, Diane Ravitch and Chester Finn published a report of a national
survey indicating that more eleventh-grade students recognized Harriet
Tubman than knew of Winston Churchill. Students remembered that
Tubman had been a conductor on the Underground Railroad, but few
of them could name a commanding general of America’s Revolutionary
War army.1 When the National Council for History Standards published
its recommendations in 1994, Harriet Tubman received six citations,
while previous centerpieces of American schoolbooks, such as Paul Re-
vere, Thomas Edison, Alexander Graham Bell, and the Wright brothers,
failed to make the grade, much to the consternation of critics of multi-
cultural education.2 In 1999, as the second millennium drew to a close,
the Arts and Entertainment cable TV network broadcast a series called
Biography of the Millennium: 100 People—1,000 Years, based on interviews
with scholars, politicians, and theologians who had been asked to identify
which one hundred personalities had most affected the world, “for better
or worse,” between A.D. 1000 and 2000. Harriet Tubman emerged in the
seventy-first slot, ahead of Princess Diana, the Beatles, Joseph Stalin,
Elizabeth I, Ronald Reagan, Jonas Salk, Louis Armstrong, and Tubman’s
contemporary and friend, the women’s rights activist Susan B. Anthony
of Rochester, New York.3
As I write, there are efforts to have the U.S. Congress grant Harriet
Tubman veteran status for her services to the Union Army, and some
Tubman champions would like to see her receive the Congressional
Medal of Honor posthumously. Others, not satisfied with half a loaf of
bread in the day of commemoration awarded her in 2003 in New York
State, continue to campaign for an actual holiday in her honor. Other
Tubman enthusiasts want a national public holiday in her memory. In
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