Black First of the Day

Freedom Facts and Firsts
ISBN: 9781578591923

Who was the first black woman honored on a stamp?

  • The first, and perhaps the only U.S. Liberty ship named in honor of a black woman, was launched on June 3, 1944.
  • Arguably the most successful conductor of the Underground Railroad.
  • Following her escape from slavery, she guided hundreds of American slaves to freedom.
  • Araminta Ross, she was one of eleven children born to Benjamin and Harriet Green Ross in Dorchester, Maryland.


Harriet Tubman (1820?-1913)

February 1, 1978 Harriet Tubman was first black woman honored on a stamp.

Following her escape from slavery in 1849, Harriet Tubman guided hundreds of American slaves to freedom along the series of loosely organized agents called the Underground Railroad. Returning to the South at least 19 times, Tubman personally led more than 300 men, women, and children to freedom in the North and Canada at the risk of losing her own life. Dubbed the Moses of her people, she also served as a nurse, scout, and spy in the Union Army during the Civil War, and in her later years became a champion of the elderly and the poor.

Originally Araminta Ross, she was one of eleven children born to Benjamin and Harriet Green Ross in Dorchester, Maryland. Despite her slave status, young Ross defiantly changed her name to Harriet as a child. She was rented out to neighboring plantations during her adolescence, denied an education, and punished severely for the smallest infraction. A particularly severe beating she received at age 15 caused narcoleptic episodes for the duration of her life. Married to a free black man named John Tubman in 1844, she escaped slavery three years later following his threats to sell her into slavery in the Deep South. The free status she enjoyed in Philadelphia was jeopardized, however, by the passage of the 1850 Fugitive Slave Act, which authorized the enslavement of northern blacks regardless of their legal status. Soon after, Tubman became associated with the Philadelphia Vigilance Committee.

She coordinated her first escape plan with the organization in 1851, before moving to St. Catherine's, Canada. For the next six years she guided runaways north before coordinating the 1857 escape of her parents to freedom. Employing drugs to quiet babies and disguises to trick slave patrols, she went so far as to threaten to shoot any escapee who attempted to turn back because it would have jeopardized the others. In this way, Tubman helped hundreds to freedom before her last trip in 1860.

Arguably the most successful conductor of the Underground Railroad, Tubman was well known to the country's foremost abolitionists and was a regular speaker at anti-slavery and women's rights meetings. A friend of John Brown, only illness prevented her from participating in his failed attack on Harper's Ferry in 1859. Throughout the 1860s, Tubman worked in the South, where she assisted escapees who volunteered for the Union. She traveled to South Carolina as a nurse and teacher for the abandoned Gullah people, as well as to Florida, where she taught newly freed blacks how to become self-sufficient. In 1863 Tubman became the first woman to lead U.S. troops when she guided the soldiers of the 2nd South Carolina Regiment up the Combahee River. Despite her gallantry, the U.S. government repeatedly denied her military wages and benefits. A member of the National Association of Colored Women and the National Federation of Afro-American Women, Tubman supported the suffrage movement and was an advocate of the elderly. Her lifelong dream, a Home for the Aged and Indigent Colored People, opened in 1908. In 1911 Tubman began living there before dying of pneumonia two years later. - Crystal A. deGregory

From Freedom Facts and Firsts: 400 Years of the African American Civil Rights Experience by Jessie Carney Smith and Linda T Wynn, © Visible Ink Press®. Essential reading about the struggle for freedom.

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