Harriet Tubman deserves honor and recognition, which is why she was originally scheduled to replace President Andrew Jackson on the $20 bill. According to Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, this may not happen after all. Last month, he said the Treasury Department has not decided whether it will change the bill. No matter what the department does, Hillsdale should honor Tubman in its own way with a statue on the Liberty Walk.
Standing among presidents and prime ministers, Frederick Douglass’ statue on the Liberty Walk is unique. He is known for his work with the abolitionist movement fighting for the rights of African-Americans rather than his political career. Hillsdale should continue in this departure from tradition by commemorating Tubman, who fought for freedom while working against the government.
A statue of Tubman would honor her legacy and serve as a reminder of the role that Hillsdale County played in the Underground Railroad. Although the railroad’s secretive nature can make identifying stops difficult, the Dow House may have been a station, possibly connected by a secret tunnel to what is now the Sigma Chi fraternity house, as Professor Emeritus of History Arlan Gilbert told The Collegian last year. Mike Venturini, who owns and operates the Munro House Bed and Breakfast, also told The Collegian that several buildings in Jonesville, including the Munro House, may have been stops.
Tubman was born into slavery in Maryland around 1820. Her childhood was fraught with illness and neglect. When she was in her early teens, she noticed an overseer at a store who intended to attack a fugitive slave. Tubman stood in the way to help the slave escape, but the overseer picked up a heavy metal weight from a counter and aimed at the slave. Instead, he hit Tubman in the head, breaking her skull. The injury caused frequent headaches and seizures, which affected Tubman for the rest of her life.
In 1849, Tubman’s owner died. Following the sale of three of her sisters, Tubman worried for her future. She decided to escape on the Underground Railroad. Putting her faith in God to protect her, she convinced her brothers to run away with her. They escaped, but her brothers soon decided to return to the plantation. Tubman was not deterred. She traveled by night, following the North Star to safety until she made her way across the Mason-Dixon Line into Philadelphia.
According to Sarah Hopkins Bradford in her 1869 book “Scenes in the Life of Harriet Tubman,” the now-fugitive slave worried for the family members she left behind.
“I had crossed the line,” Tubman said. “I was free; but there was no one to welcome me to the land of freedom. I was a stranger in a strange land; and my home after all, was down in Maryland; because my father, my mother, my brothers, and sisters, and friends were there. But I was free, and they should be free.”
Just over a year after Tubman escaped, she rescued the first of her family members. She eventually led her parents, several of her siblings (including the brothers who turned back), and close to 60 others to freedom. This earned her the nickname “Moses.” In fact, evidence suggests that Tubman stopped with a group of eleven escaped slaves at the home of Frederick Douglass in 1851, which, if true, provides more reason to reunite her with Douglass here on campus.
Her faith in God served as an important impetus. As fellow abolitionist Thomas Garrett once said, “I never met any person of any color who had more confidence in the voice of God.”
A statue of Harriet Tubman would make an excellent addition to Hillsdale’s campus. Tubman’s incredible achievements and sacrifice for human rights should inspire all Hillsdale students. She dedicated her life to helping others, despite her own hardship. She trusted in God to use her where she was. She continued to fight for her cause during the Civil War and later advocated for women’s suffrage. A statue of Tubman as the second woman on the Liberty Walk would also honor Hillsdale’s legacy of respecting women’s rights from day one.
Harriet Tubman belongs on the same walk as President Abraham Lincoln, Frederick Douglass, and the Alpha Kappa Phi Civil War memorial. Outside of Delp Hall, she would stand close to her fellow defenders of freedom and others who advanced the cause of liberty.
Chandler Lasch is a senior studying history.