From Publishers Weekly
Conductor of the Underground Railroad for eight years, Harriet Tubman famously boasted that she could say what most conductors couldn't: "I never run my train off the track and I never lost a passenger." The quote fits with the popular image of Tubman as the courageous, inspired "Moses of Her People," yet Humez, a professor of women's studies and scholar of African-American spiritual autobiography, argues that the edifice of Tubman iconography has concealed the woman herself. Humez has assembled a trove of primary source documents-letters, diaries, memorials, speeches, articles, meeting minutes and testimonies-that create a more intimate portrait of Tubman. But instead of interpreting the rich materials she has collected, Humez offers a biography of Tubman and then includes a scholarly article asserting that since Tubman was illiterate, and her stories and correspondence have been recorded by others, "such texts cannot be read at face value" and must be understood to have undergone at least minimal changes from the author's original statements. Although Humez's prose lacks narrative flair, she aptly places Tubman in a broad historical context, documenting her relations to John Brown, Sojourner Truth, Abraham Lincoln, Frederic Douglass, Northern abolitionists and the nascent women's movement. The book is at its best in the last two primary-source sections. Through Tubman's documented words and the observations of others, "Aunt Harriet" emerges as an even more charismatic figure than American history has allowed: profoundly spiritual, irreverent, witty, wise, impoverished and ultimately neglected by the Union she defended.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.
"I see Harriet Tubman: The Life and the Life Stories
as the most important book on Tubman in the last fifty years."—William L. Andrews
"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