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Born in slavery in Maryland in or around 1820, Tubman drew upon deep spiritual resources and covert antislavery networks when she escaped to the north in 1849. Vowing to liberate her entire family, she made repeated trips south during the 1850s and successfully guided dozens of fugitives to freedom. During the Civil War she was recruited to act as spy and scout with the Union army. After the war she settled in Auburn, New York, where she worked to support an extended family and in her later years founded a home for the indigent aged. Celebrated by her primarily white antislavery associates in a variety of private and public documents from the 1850s through the 1870s, she was rediscovered as a race heroine by woman suffragists and the African American womenís club movement in the early twentieth century. Her story was used as a key symbolic resource in education, institutional fundraising, and debates about the meaning of "race" throughout the twentieth century.
Humez includes an extended discussion of Tubman's work as a public performer of her own life history during the nearly sixty years she lived in the North. Drawing upon historiographical and literary discussion of the complex hybrid authorship of slave narrative literature, Humez analyzes the interactive dynamic between Tubman and her interviewers. Humez illustrates how Tubman, though unable to write, made major unrecognized contributions to the shaping of her own heroic myth by early biographers like Sarah Bradford. Selections of key documents illustrate how Tubman appeared to her contemporaries, and a comprehensive list of primary sources represents an important resource for scholars.
"Imagine Harriet Tubman, whose spirit is so large, without the means to tell her story as autobiography in the usual sense. She sings or prays or speaks in public, but what about the silent articulation of pain and struggle that becomes available through this source. . . . In bringing together the many voices that serve as Tubman's surrogate, Humez does something for Tubman that Tubman was never in a position to do for herself."—Joanne Braxton, College of William and Mary
"Humez has compiled what she calls Tubman's "core stories," accounts of her life Tubman told regularly in her public appearances, and descriptions written by those who interacted with her. Presented as a chronology of her life, these materials paint a far more vivid portrait than any biographer's account. The reader gains not just glimpses of Tubman, but sees how she confounded even those admirers who still could not comprehend a black woman who behaved like the bravest of men. Read with the care Humez's introduction to the documentary section of her book prescribes, the collection of Tubman sources she has assembled provide the basis for a far fuller and more complex portrait than has hitherto been available"—New York Times Book Review
"Harriet Tubman: The Life and the Life Stories may be the most comprehensive book on Tubman to date. Humez follows Tubman through slavery, the Civil War, Reconstruction, and her final years, with careful attention to the facts and minimal embellishment. Humez discusses Tubman's role as a storyteller, and in subsequent chapters, pays close attention to Tubman's words as they were presented by her early biographers and in her letters to family and friends. Humez's book is extremely well researched, and her writing is both incisive and accessible, making it an excellent resource for students as well as for the general reader."—Black Issues Book Review
"…the most analytic and interpretive treatment…ideal for scholarly audiences, though it will please any interested reader….an invaluable resource for understanding the real Harriet Tubman."—Library Journal