Donate to RNS

5 faith facts about Harriet Tubman: ‘American Moses’ is coming to $20 bill

(RNS) The faith of Harriet Tubman is indisputable. Here are 5 faith facts about the abolitionist, famed conductor of the Underground Railroad and reported new face of the $20 bill.

Harriet Tubman portrait. No date indicated.

(RNS) Harriet Tubman will replace Andrew Jackson on the $20 bill, the Treasury Department has announced.

The move will make Tubman the first African-American, the first woman in more than 100 years and the first unabashed Christian to be portrayed on a bill. (Martha Washington briefly appeared on a $1 silver certificate, and Pocahontas, on the back of the $20 bill, according to The Atlantic.)

RELATED: Harriet Tubman at 100: Emancipate yourself from mental slavery

While the faith of some presidents featured on U.S. currency may be in dispute, Tubman, who was born in slavery and died in 1913 a free woman, had impeccable faith credentials.

Here are five faith facts about the abolitionist and famed conductor of the Underground Railroad.

1. Her nickname was “Moses.”

Harriet Tubman was born in slavery around 1820 in Maryland. After escaping in 1849 to Philadelphia, she returned to the South more than a dozen times, helping to lead hundreds of slaves to freedom along the Underground Railroad.

This earned her the nickname “Moses.” And it came from her faith in God.

“I always tole God, ‘I’m gwine to hole stiddy on you, an’ you’ve got to see me through,'” she said.

2. She believed she had visions.

As a teenager, Tubman received a blow to the head that would cause her seizures, vivid dreams and hallucinations throughout her life. She believed these “visions” came from God and she relied on them to lead herself and others out of slavery and into the North.

“For in truth, I never met with any person, of any color, who had more confidence in the voice of God, as spoken direct to her soul,” Thomas Garrett, an abolitionist and Quaker who knew Tubman, wrote.

3. Her favorite hymn was “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot.”

The gospel song “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot” was reportedly one of Tubman’s favorites.

It was sung at her funeral and is also one of the hymns in her personal hymnal — an 8-by-5-inch book inscribed “Harriet Tubman Davis Book” — recently donated to the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture by historian Charles Blockson.

“Swing low, sweet chariot, comin’ for to carry me home . . . ,” says the hymn, a favorite in both the antebellum cottonfields and 21st-century churches.

4. “The Lord” told her to go on a hunger strike for $20.

Shortly after the announcement that Tubman would replace Jackson on the $20 bill, The Atlantic’s Washington bureau chief, Yoni Appelbaum, tweeted a story recorded by the abolitionist’s first biographer, Sarah Hopkins Bradford. It goes like this:

Sometime after Tubman escaped to freedom, she learned her parents, still enslaved in Maryland, were in trouble, according to Appelbaum. She staged a sit-down hunger strike at the New York office of abolitionist Oliver Johnson in order to secure the $20 she needed to rescue them. The Lord had told her to, she reportedly said.

“Well, I guess the Lord’s mistaken this time,” Johnson said.

Tubman replied, “I guess he isn’t, sir. Anyhow, I’m gwine to sit here till I git it.” And she did: Supporters slipped $60 into her pockets while she slept, and she was able to lead her father to freedom.

Another fun $20 fact — Congress awarded her a monthly pension of $20.

5. Her dying words referred to heaven.

At the end of her life, Tubman was active in the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church in Auburn, N.Y., where she settled and where you can visit her home. According to her obituary in the Auburn Citizen, the last words she uttered were also ones of faith: “I go to prepare a place for you.”

Donate to Support Independent Journalism!

Donate Now!