Ann Petry’s, “Harriet Tubman, Conductor of The Underground Railroad,” is written in simple prose. In fact, it was originally written for children. But, don’t let the simplicity of the style fool you. This novel, about this extraordinary, courageous woman, is quite powerful and educational and important.
Ms. Tubman helped free over 300 slaves from Maryland plantations during the 1850’s, traveling mostly at night, silently drudging through forests, wading rivers, and stopping at safe houses set up to shelter and feed the runaways on their way to freedom in Delaware, Philadelphia, New York and Boston, and eventually Canada when the Courts in the United States and the government passed “The Fugitive Slave Law” which made it a crime, even in the free states, to help and hide escaped slaves.
The Safe Houses, were run by Quakers, free slaves, and white men and women of conscience who understood that slavery was wrong and sacrilegious. During the Civil War Ms. Tubman served as a scout, a nurse, and gave speeches on the subject of slavery, and after the war fought for the right of women to vote. She was never able to read and write, as a slave the plantation owners did not want their free labor educated. It could only cause problems, which makes Ms. Tubman’s accomplishment the more remarkable.
In our current time of social unrest, with movements like Black Lives Matter and the ME TOO movement, it is important to remember the sacrifices made by such individuals because without their courage and foresight such movements might not exist. Social Justice in America has been a slow process, but if things seem bad now, they were a million times worse back two hundred years ago when Ms. Tubman’s was born, property of a plantation owner.
Knowing one’s history is very important, and Ann Petry’s book is a guide and an education and shines a light on a part of American history that is quite ugly and that children and adults would benefit greatly from knowing as much as possible about.