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Bound for the Promised Land: Harriet Tubman: Portrait of an American Hero Paperback – December 28, 2004
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The Amazon Book Review
Author interviews, book reviews, editors picks, and more. Read it now
“What a glorious book! Kate Clifford Larson’s magnificent biography of the life of the real Harriet Tubman deserves the nation’s attention. . . . With clarity, grace, and skill, Larson brilliantly captures the truly remarkable spirit of a genuine American heroine. We are all in Larson’s debt.”
—DARLENE CLARK HINE
Coauthor, A Shining Thread of Hope: The History of Black Women in America
The Emeline Bigelow Conland Fellow at Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study
“An extraordinary achievement. Heroically researched, movingly written, it transforms a legend into a flesh-and-blood human being and brings a critical era in our history vividly to life.”
—JACQUELYN D. HALL
Julia Cherry Spruill Professor of History,
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
“Harriet Tubman’s life as a warrior woman is elegantly captured in Kate Clifford Larson’s riveting biography. . . . Bound for the Promised Land is the story of a legendary woman we thought we knew, but Larson’s portrait is more focused, more complex, more satisfying.”
Author of Gender Talk:
The Struggle for Women’s Equality in African American Communities
Professor, Women’s Studies and English and
Director, Spelman College
From the Hardcover edition.
From the Inside Flap
Harriet Tubman is one of the giants of American historya fearless visionary who led scores of her fellow slaves to freedom and battled courageously behind enemy lines during the Civil War. And yet in the nine decades since her death, next to nothing has been written about this extraordinary woman aside from juvenile biographies. The truth about Harriet Tubman has become lost inside a legend woven of racial and gender stereotypes. Now at last, in this long-overdue biography, historian Kate Clifford Larson gives Harriet Tubman the powerful, intimate, meticulously detailed life she deserves.
Drawing from a trove of new documents and sources as well extensive genealogical research, Larson reveals Tubman as a complex woman brilliant, shrewd, deeply religious, and passionate in her pursuit of freedom. The descendant of the vibrant, matrilineal Asanti people of the West African Gold Coast, Tubman was born into slavery on the Eastern Shore of Maryland but refused to spend her life in bondage. While still a young woman she embarked on a perilous journey of self-liberationand then, having won her own freedom, she returned again and again to liberate family and friends, tapping into the Underground Railroad.
Yet despite her success, her celebrity, her close ties with Northern politicians and abolitionists, Tubman suffered crushing physical pain and emotional setbacks. Stripping away myths and misconceptions, Larson presents stunning new details about Tubmans accomplishments, personal life, and influence, including her relationship with Frederick Douglass, her involvement with John Browns raid on Harpers Ferry, and revelations about a young woman who may have been Tubmans daughter. Here too are Tubmans twilight years after the war, when she worked for womens rights and in support of her fellow blacks, and when racist politicians and suffragists marginalized her contribution.
Harriet Tubman, her life and her work, remain an inspiration to all who value freedom. Now, thanks to Larsons breathtaking biography, we can finally appreciate Tubman as a complete human beingan American hero, yes, but also a woman who loved, suffered, and sacrificed. Bound for the Promised Land is a magnificent work of biography, history, and truth telling.
From the Hardcover edition.
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So it shouldn’t really be surprising that Harriet Tubman’s life has been passed down as more myth than accurate history. We simply don’t know many details. The author is very forthright in these matters. She takes meticulous care in explaining to the reader that one must do a lot of speculating when writing about such a person as Harriet Tubman. In fact, one could argue that she is forced to “fill many of the pages” with what we <I>do</I> know around slavery in order to get a more accurate picture. There were times when I forgot I was reading a book about Harriet Tubman and thought that I was reading about the institution of slavery as it existed in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. None of this really bothered me, however, other than the fact that such a travesty in any country’s history is always difficult to stomach. I have a hard time reading books about oppressed people. It’s so hard for me to comprehend how cruel people can be to one another.
So Tubman’s life probably mirrors many other lives of slaves. Her early life has her constantly being “loaned out” to temporary masters. Some are kinder than others, but the cruel ones are particularly ruthless. At one point, a “master” gets angry at a particular slave and throws an anvil at him. He misses, yet manages to hit Tubman instead and severely wound her. She survives, yet harbors the wound for her entire life. I mention this because Tubman believes she has an epiphany after the accident, goes into trances from time to time, and is convinced that God has chosen her to help redeem her people and help end slavery. Whether this revelation was truly divine, a result of an overactive imagination, or the consequence of a nasty head wound is debatable. Whatever the case, history now tells us that, celestial or accidental, this incident turned out to be a great thing.
The remarkable thing about Tubman is that once she escapes, she elects not to run further away, yet run <I>back</I> and rescue more and more slaves. This is obviously incredibly perilous. She never seems apprehensive, seems completely in control, and has incredible wits to manage such escapades with daring brilliance. She knows God will keep her safe. The book is filled with such dramatic escape tales, and if a movie is ever made about her, you can bet that some of these adventures would take up the bulk of the film. Again, when you don’t know much history, such dramatic events tend to stand out.
At the outbreak of the U.S. Civil War, Tubman continues to work strongly for the cause, aiding the Union army however possible. The book doesn’t really dwell too much on this area of her life, probably because much simply isn’t known. We then briefly read about her post Civil War days as she continues to be an activist – campaigning for universal suffrage. The book is also intertwined with many famous figures of U.S. History including Frederick Douglass, Susan B. Anthony and John Brown. All of these individuals Tubman works with in some capacity during her lifelong plight.
The biggest weakness of the book is that the author feels compelled to list every single individual by name that happens to be related to any of the incidents that occur in Tubman’s life. Example: If Tubman hides in a particular “safe house” during one of her escapes, the author will proceed to tell us the name of every individual that resided at the particular house, along with (what seemed like) an intense lengthy genealogy. This wouldn’t be a bad idea if such individuals had a more major role in the story, but when we never visit the particular safe house again, we wonder “what’s the point??”. My advice is to skip over most of the names and not try to catalog them in your brain as you read. Otherwise, your brain will soon become overloaded.
Overall a very good, powerful, necessary read. One really wishes, however, that we could know so much more about this true heroine.
The story showed all facets of Ms Tubman life, not just leadership,compassion, intelligence, bravery, and strength, but humor.
I enjoyed reading and learning about Harriet Tubman.