10 things to know about Harriet Tubman (her nickname was ‘Minty’)

This photograph released by the Library of Congress and provided by Abrams Books shows Harriet Tubman in a photograph dating from 1860-75. Tubman was born into slavery, but escaped to Philadelphia in 1849, and provided valuable intelligence to Union forces during the Civil War.
This photograph released by the Library of Congress and provided by Abrams Books shows Harriet Tubman in a photograph dating from 1860-75. Tubman was born into slavery, but escaped to Philadelphia in 1849, and provided valuable intelligence to Union forces during the Civil War. Associated Press

Stand aside, gents. It’s a woman’s turn now.

And what a woman she was.

Harriet Tubman will replace former president Andrew Jackson on the front of the $20 bill.

If it’s been awhile since you’ve studied American history, here are 10 things you should know about this daughter of slaves, born in Maryland, whose face you’ll be seeing on your money.

1. Her christening name was Araminta Ross.

Her nickname was “Minty.” Later in life people called her “Moses” and “General Tubman.” Harriet was her mother’s first name.

2. Did she live most of her life with a traumatic brain injury?

Tubman suffered a life-altering injury in an altercation at a dry-goods store when she was young, according to

The story goes that another slave who had left the fields without permission was at the store. When the man’s overseer ordered Tubman to help restrain the slave, she refused. The overseer threw a 2-pound weight at her head.

For the rest of her life Tubman suffered seizures and severe headaches that grew more painful as she aged. She had brain surgery at Boston’s Massachusetts General Hospital to alleviate the pains and “buzzing” she regularly heard.

3. Right up there with King and Parks. Respect.

In 2008, American high-schoolers were asked to name the most famous Americans in history, excluding presidents and their wives. The 2,000 students surveyed put Tubman in the top three along with Martin Luther King, Jr. and Rosa Parks.

4. She’s only been depicted in a major motion picture once. Tsk, tsk.

Vox went digging around because surely a woman as important as Tubman has been given the Hollywood treatment.


Seth Grahame-Smith, who wrote “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter,” tweeted that Tubman has only been depicted once on the big screen, not counting depictions in a TV miniseries and a short film.

That movie? “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter.”

5. Freedom was heaven, or Canada.

She used the Underground Railroad herself to escape slavery in Maryland and reach Philadelphia in 1849.

“When I found I had crossed that line, I looked at my hands to see if I was the same person,” she said. “There was such a glory over everything; the sun came like gold through the trees, and over the fields, and I felt like I was in Heaven.”

Risking that new freedom she turned right around and went back to Maryland to help her parents, siblings and dozens more escape. People started calling her “Moses.”

As she continued to help slaves move north, the passage of the Fugitive Slave Law in 1850 meant that slaves captured in the north, even if they were living as free men and women, had to be returned to their owners. So Tubman started leading slaves past Philadelphia and into Canada, where slavery was prohibited.

6. Don’t quote her on this.

You can expect to see this popular Tubman quote pop up over the next few days: “I freed a thousand slaves I could have freed a thousand more if only they knew they were slaves.”

But here’s the hitch. Tubman never said it.

The quote appeared in a 1970 essay on Tubman that likely pulled the words from a fictionalized portrait of her, Milton Sternett tells Gizmodo.

He said it’s not surprising, given how early abolitionists - tasked with creating the record of the illiterate Tubman’s life - made up quotes and embellished stories about her, said the author of “Harriet Tubman: Myth, Memory, and History.”

7. That one time Russell Simmons ticked off Tubman’s descendants.

Tubman and her second husband adopted a baby girl, Gertie. Their descendants are a loyal family.

In 2013 Russell Simmons felt their wrath - and actually everyone else’s - when he released a tasteless spoof video that showed Tubman videotaping herself having sex with a white slave master to use as blackmail for her Underground Railroad work.

“When I looked at it (the Tubman sex tape) tears streamed down my eyes,” Tubman’s great-great-grand-niece Rita Daniels told The Grio. “This is a woman who helped people. She was not about this.”

Simmons took the video off the Internet, reached out to the family to apologize and suggested they all work together to make a biopic. No word lately on those plans.

8. Just call her “General” Tubman

During the Civil War she volunteered as a nurse for the Union Army, then became a spy. In 1863 she became the first woman to lead an armed military expedition into battle during the war, guiding Union soldiers into the Combahee River Raid in South Carolina.

The story goes that as Union ships passed near plantation fields hundreds of slaves begged to be taken aboard and rescued. Nearly 800 slaves were freed during the campaign.

9. Her statue in Harlem caused a stir when it was installed in 2008.

Why is the statue facing South?, critics wanted to know when artist Alison Saar’s 10-foot-tall bronze statue of Tubman was revealed.

They thought the statue should have faced north, towards freedom.

“She’s best known for her sojourns north,” Saar told The New York Times, “but what is most impressive to me are her trips south, where she risked her own freedom.”

Another statute of Tubman in Boston’s South End became a popular photo op on Wednesday after the big announcement.

10. She was buried with military honors.

Still suffering from head trauma sustained earlier in life, Tubman spent her last days in a rest home named after her. She died of pneumonia in 1913, surrounded by friends and family members. She was buried with military honors at Fort Hill Cemetery in Auburn, N.Y.

And speaking of graves ...

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