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It's easy to mythologize a woman like Harriet Tubman. Tubman led hundreds of African Americans to freedom as a conductor on the Underground Railroad after escaping the bonds of slavery herself as a young woman in the early 1800s. During the Civil War she served as a spy, a nurse and a cook for Union forces and, in 1863, she helped free more than 700 African Americans during a raid in South Carolina – a feat that earned her the moniker "General Tubman." One of the country's most courageous abolitionists, she enjoyed the respect of leaders from Frederick Douglass to Susan B. Anthony. Yet even on her deathbed, after her lifetime of self-sacrifice, Tubman continued to pledge her service to others. Her reported last words: "I go away to prepare a place for you."
On the 97th anniversary of Harriet Tubman's death, the NMAAHC received a gift of 39 artifacts that once belonged to the extraordinary woman who transcended racial and gender boundaries to become an American hero. The collection, which includes clothing accessories, household items, photographs, correspondence, photo postcards, manuscripts of speeches and souvenir programs, offer a glimpse into Tubman's daily life. Among them is one of the few framed portraits of Tubman known to exist, her personal hymn book published in 1876, and a lace shawl (circa 1897) given to her by England's Queen Victoria. The collection also contains photographs of Tubman's funeral, held March 11, 1913, at the A.M.E. Zion Church in Auburn, N.Y.
"There is something both humbling and sacred found in the personal items of such an iconic person," said Lonnie Bunch, NMAAHC's director. "It is an honor to be able to show the private side of a very public person, a woman whose very work for many years put her in service to countless others."
The collection was a gift to the NMAAHC from Charles L. Blockson, a writer, historian and former board member of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania whose ancestors owed their newfound liberty to Tubman's fearlessness.