Harriet Tubman’s steadfast dedication and her radical actions to free her family and friends from enslavement on the Eastern Shore of Maryland has inspired public officials and communities in the United States to recognize her through monumental art. A story map shows that nearly a dozen public memorials now mark the landscape honoring her. Through her memorialization in bronze, Tubman stands as an American hero in civic spaces. As Milton Sernett notes, “In spite of the difficulties of constructing an accurate history of her life, our individual and collective memories of her resonate so strongly because Harriet Tubman’s life story causes us to reflect on both the good and the bad in the larger American story.” Her determination to be free and her “self-sacrificial efforts to help others,” Sernett argues “underscore values that we as Americans treasure in custom and law, beginning with the founding of the Republic of the United States.”
Tubman’s persistence in the face of racism, violence, and poverty is the story of the great American hero. Today, public officials and their constituents want a connection to Tubman because of her mythic ascension from slavery to freedom. Along former Underground Railroad routes in Maryland, Delaware, Pennsylvania, New York, and Ontario, Tubman’s story exemplifies bravery and resolute faith. To commission a bronze statue, reflects these communities dedication to retelling American history and the complicated nature of American democracy. Communities want representations that make Tubman’s bodily form and heroic actions visible for all to see. She has come to symbolize extraordinary leadership in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds, and to embody the role of community-builder and humanitarian.
Milton S. Sernett, Harriet Tubman: Myth, Memory, and History (Durham and London: Duke University Press, 2007), 317.