A couple of years ago, the movie Harriet came out and helped raise the status of Harriet Tubman. There has also been the ongoing discussion of Harriet Tubman on the $20 bill, which will have taken 16 years from the start of the process to the actual bills being produced if the current timeline holds.
In 2003-2004 there were two good academic biographies, Bound for the Promise Land and Harriet Tubman: Road to Freedom. But outside of those two biographies, most writings about Harriet Tubman were children’s picture books or short low-quality biographies. She Came to Slay fills the void by being a short biography (less than 200 pages) while being really well written and historically current in its research. Erica Armstrong Dunbar is a history professor at Rutgers and knows her craft. She Came to Slay’s description references Notorious RBG, a similarly short but high-quality biography.
There is much about Harriet Tubman that we do not know, but much that we do. She likely helped around 70 people escape slavery through the underground railroad and supported the planning of others. Her work in the civil war supporting the formerly enslaved that escaped to the Union lines and saved many. And she led a military raid during the civil war that freed many more enslaved people through military intervention than her work in the Underground Railroad.
In many ways thinking of Harriet Tubman as a proto-super hero is real. In addition to her work in the Underground Railroad, she was a spy for the Union Army, a business owner and entrepreneur, a business incubator, a nurse during and after the civil war, and a developer of early nursing homes, in addition to her work for women’s rights.
Personally, I will always connect her to my grandfather because when I read Bound for the Promise Land, I realized that Harriet Tubman lived until the spring of 1913, thirteen months after my grandfather was born. So I always think of that when I think of Harriet Tubman; she reminds me that full enslavement is only a few generations away. Another example is Ruth Odom Bonner, who passed away at 100 years old. She helped to open the national African American Museum with President Obama and her 7-year-old granddaughter. Ruth Odom Bonner was the daughter of a man that was born enslaved in 1859. Her father, Elijah Odom, was 58 when she was born. So slavery was not that long ago.
As I have said, this is a brief biography, and while it is not oriented directly toward young adults, I think that many that are in middle school or above would be capable of reading She Came to Slay. I picked the book up on kindle when it was on sale a few weeks ago, but it is available for audio and is just under 4 hours in length.