Harriet Tubman

Click image to enlarge

Harriet Tubman
c. 1963
R. Furan
Acrylic on board
10.5 x 17 in.
DuSable Museum of African American History

What is Harriet Tubman doing in this painting? In the larger color image on the right, she is shown as an elderly woman, gazing out at the viewer. But on the left side of the painting are drawings that tell the story of her life. Reading these pictures from left to right we see Tubman standing in a strong pose, wearing traveling clothes and carrying a gun, guarding a group of people at rest. On the right is an enslaved man escaping through a swamp by moonlight.

Although Tubman was born into a life of slavery, by the age of thirty, she had escaped Maryland and traveled to freedom in Philadelphia. She made several trips—approximately thirteen—to the South to lead family members and others out of bondage, risking her life each time. (Indeed, Southerners offered as much as $40,000 bounty for her capture.) Tubman spent much of her life fighting slavery as an outspoken abolitionist, by leading people along the Underground Railroad, and by assisting the Union army during the Civil War. Her success earned her the nickname “Moses,” after the Old Testament prophet who led the Jewish people out of slavery in Egypt.

Tubman’s actions continued to inspire people long into the next century, when R. Furan painted this picture, and people celebrated her as a hero in American history during the Civil Rights movement of the twentieth century.


1. Why do you think this artist painted multiple pictures of Harriet Tubman in one painting? Do these pictures of Tubman help you understand the sort of person she was?

2. Why do you think that the small pictures are sketches but the large picture is more detailed? What effect does this have on you as a viewer?

Further reading:
WGBH and PBS Online, “People and Events: Harriet Tubman (c.1820-1913).” Africans in America. http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/aia/part4/4p1535.html.

©DuSable Museum of African American History