Is a post saying "Harriet Tubman is not a real person" accurate? No, that's not true: Multiple historians told Lead Stories this claim is false. One of them, the author of "Harriet Tubman: The Road to Freedom," wrote, "I can suggest that the notion that Harriet Tubman was not a real person, but a manufactured piece of fiction is categorically and verifiably false." Another, the author of "Bound For The Promised Land: Harriet Tubman, Portrait of an American Hero," told Lead Stories, "There is an extraordinary amount of documentation that proves the birth, childhood, adulthood, and death of Harriet Ross Tubman, born Araminta 'Minty' Ross."
The claim appeared in a Facebook post on June 8, 2022. The caption opens:
Harriet Tubman is not a real person. Debate me and get destroyed
Y'all Too angry in the shares 🤣 #CATFISHED
This is what the Facebook post looked like on June 13, 2022:
(Source: Facebook screenshot taken on Mon June 13 19:48:03 2022 UTC)
It's not clear why the person posting the claim uses the present tense 'is' to refer to Tubman since all historical accounts indicate she died more than 100 years ago. While there have been myths and exaggerations surrounding Tubman's legacy for many years, there is no question that she is not just a symbol.
The claim began circulating via this January 26, 2020, tweet. Dane Calloway also created this May 3, 2021, YouTube video, titled, "Harriet Tubman Is A Fictional Character Created By An Act Of Congress And Sarah Bradford In 1869."
Lead Stories debunked another claim by Calloway, a self-described "unorthodox researcher and historian," in this August 7, 2019, story titled, "New DNA Does NOT Prove 98% Of African Americans Are In Fact Indigenous Aborigines Of America."
Regarding the Tubman claim, dismissing the possibility that the poster might be just trying to play word games by using the present tense to describe someone who died over 100 years ago, the scholarly documentation of Tubman's life is massive.
Catherine Clinton, Denman Chair of American History at the University of Texas in San Antonio, and the author of "Harriet Tubman: The Road to Freedom," emailed Lead Stories on June 13, 2022:
As a scholar who spent half a decade researching the life of Harriet Tubman, as a biographer whose 2008 volume, Harriet Tubman: The Road to Freedom, won accolades and was named a best book by both the Chicago Tribune and the Christian Science Monitor, I can suggest that the notion that Harriet Tubman was not a real person, but a manufactured piece of fiction is categorically and verifiably false. Not just my work but the scholarship of scores of other authors: Kate Clifford Larson, Jean Humez, Dorothy Wickenden, Erica Armstrong Dunbar, Deidre Cooper-Owens, to name but a handful of the scholars in the field. Public and private records document her heroism, her exploits before and during the American Civil War, her legendary status after the war and her many accomplishments as a philanthropic and beloved citizen of Auburn, New York.
Kate Clifford Larson, a historian and author of "Bound For the Promised Land: Harriet Tubman, Portrait of an American Hero," told Lead Stories in a June 13, 2022, email:
There is an extraordinary amount of documentation that proves the birth, childhood, adulthood, and death of Harriet Ross Tubman, born Araminta 'Minty' Ross, the 5th child of enslaved parents Ben and Rit Ross of Maryland. Tubman was born between late February and mid March 1822 on a plantation owned by Anthony Thompson, a wealthy planter in Peter's Neck, south of Madison, Maryland. Court, tax, and chattel records affirm the existence and movements of the Ross family, including 'Minty' (who became Harriet Tubman after she married a free Black man named John Tubman in 1844), throughout the 1820s, 1830s, 1840s, and 1850s. Extensive records kept by slaveholders, abolitionists, Tubman friends and family document the life and times of Harriet Tubman, including her remarkable success escaping from slavery and returning about 13 times to rescue about 70 family and friends between 1850 and 1860. Her deeds as a spy and scout for the United States Army during the Civil War are also well documented - so well documented that the United States Army Military Intelligence Hall of Fame at Fort Huachuca in Arizona inducted Tubman into their Hall of Fame last June in recognition of her remarkable spying and her success as the first American woman to lead an armed raid during wartime.
She purchased a home with 7 acres of land in 1859 from the distinguished William Henry Seward, former governor and statesman from Auburn, NY, who would later be appointed by President Abraham Lincoln as Secretary of State. She lived the last five decades of her life there as a free woman, supporting family and people of various races and ethnicities with food, shelter, financial resources, and a helping hand. She was active in the women's rights movement - her speeches have been recorded, and her fight for civil rights and equity are renowned. She was friends with Susan B. Anthony and numerous other premier woman suffragists of the 19th century. Numerous photographs testify to her personhood.
Local and national newspapers followed her activities. Anyone who doubts that Harriet Tubman ever existed should note that after her death in 1913, the New York Times noted that she was one of the most influential and important people in the world to have died that year. During WWII, the United States Maritime Commission launched a Liberty Ship named in her honor - one of only about 20 ships named for an African American out of thousands.
Perhaps those people who like to deny her existence might consider spending a little more time learning about her extraordinary life. They might be inspired to be better, do better, and help advance the values she held dear and fought for all of her life - freedom, equality, justice and self-determination. She fought for those values not only for herself, but for her family and community - for all humankind - fortified by her deep faith.
Kristen Oertel, chairperson of the department of history at the University of Tulsa, and author of "Harriet Tubman: Slavery, the Civil War, and Civil Rights in the 19th Century," told Lead Stories in a June 14, 2022, email:
I can confirm that yes, Harriet Tubman was a real person.