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Harriet Tubman is one of the giants of American history—a 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-liberation—and 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 Tubman’s accomplishments, personal life, and influence, including her relationship with Frederick Douglass, her involvement with John Brown’s raid on Harpers Ferry, and revelations about a young woman who may have been Tubman’s daughter. Here too are Tubman’s twilight years after the war, when she worked for women’s 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 Larson’s breathtaking biography, we can finally appreciate Tubman as a complete human being—an 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.
Praise for Bound for the Promised Land...
"In the first scholarly biography of Harriet Tubman, Kate Clifford Larson rescues her from the 'underground' of knowledge, from unused and unseen primary documents, shedding new light on this American icon of freedom. Larson’s painstaking research and vivid imagery separate truth from myth to reveal a life greater than legend."
--Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham, Harvard University
"Bound for the Promise Land is 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 Hall, Spruill Professor of History, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
"What a glorious book! Kate Larson's magnificent biography of the life of the real Harriet Tubman deserves the nation's attention. Grounded in meticulous research, Bound for the Promise Land solves the mysteries and silences about the legendary "Moses" of Underground Railroad fame. 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, co-author, A Shining Thread of Hope: The History of Black Women in America, Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study
"Perhaps the best-known African American female historical figure because of her courageous work on the Underground Railroad, Harriet Tubman's life as a warrior woman is elegantly captured in Kate Larson's riveting biography, the first one to be published for adults after a sixty-year hiaturs. Because of her painstaking documentation of the wretched worlds that Tubman inhabited and ultimately recreated, readers confront a genuine hero, not the fiction of contemporary media. 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."
—Beverly Guy-Sheftall, Spelman College, author of Gender Talk: The Struggle for Women's Equality in African American Communities
"Larson's exceptionally well researched biography of Harriet Tubman draws on thorough historical detective work to offer a compelling life story. Along with a realistic portrayal of slave life and an accurate account of the escapes and rescues that made Tubman a mythic figure, we learn about the daily struggles of a poor, free black woman to support herself and her extended family, and to earn the compensation due her for her service as a nurse and spy during the Civil War. A welcome addition to the literature of women's and African American history." —Estelle Freedman, Stanford University, author of No Turning Back: The History of Feminism and the Future of Women