Seven Times Harriet Tubman Was a Bada-s Superhero

"Black Moses" enjoying new popularity in pop culture.

Genetta M. Adams, The Root | 3/10/2017, 11:28 a.m.
"Black Moses" enjoying new popularity in pop culture.

2. She refused to help capture another slave and suffered a traumatic brain injury because of it.

Probably the most well-known story in Tubman’s biography is that she suffered from fainting spells and hallucinations after she was struck in the head by a piece of iron. The story behind her getting struck in the head is pretty heroic: A slave who had left work without permission was being chased by an overseer. The slave ran into a dry goods store, where he encountered a teenage Harriet shopping with a plantation cook. When the overseer found the slave, he ordered Harriet to help him tie down the fugitive, but she refused. When the slave broke free, the exasperated overseer grabbed a 2-pound iron weight and threw it at the fleeing slave but hit Harriet instead.

Harriet, who was dazed and bloodied, was taken back to the plantation but received no medical attention; she was back in the field a few days later. For the rest of her life, she would suffer blackouts and, later, seizures. She would also experience vivid dreams and visions, which Tubman attributed to God, whom she felt was guiding her on the road to freedom.

3. After she escaped from slavery, she went back about 13 more times to free her family and other slaves.

After escaping slavery in 1849, Tubman, over the next 11 years, would go back to Maryland to retrieve her brothers and other family members along with other enslaved people. All told, she likely led about 70 to 80 people personally to freedom and helped guide 50 or 60 more by giving them detailed directions when she couldn’t lead them herself. (One of the early biographies about her life exaggerated the number of slaves Tubman freed, putting it in the hundreds.)

Larson points out that African Americans fleeing slavery from Maryland were not uncommon, given that the state bordered the slavery-free state of Pennsylvania. What made Tubman unique, and ultimately a legend, was that she kept going back, risking capture and re-enslavement—or, worse, death by lynching—to retrieve her loved ones and help others.

4. She was a queen of disguise and a master of deception.

In order to return to Maryland time and time again, Tubman would often use disguises, including dressing up like an elderly man or woman. And when disguises didn’t work, Tubman used clever deception. While fleeing with a group of slaves near a bridge in Delaware, Tubman encountered a group of Irish laborers.

Rather than run with such a large group, Tubman boldly walked up to the men and started chatting them up … about Christmas. When they got curious about what she, a lone black woman, was doing on the bridge, she changed the subject to marriage, suggesting that since she had already married a black man, she was now on the lookout for a white husband. Apparently, this discussion about mixing the races through marriage—clearly a taboo topic at the time—was so distracting, the slaves were able to pass the bridge to safety.