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Bookmarks Issue: 
10-May-June-2004
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The Road to Freedom

A-HarrietTubmanThe Harriet Tubman of our childhood imagination served as the only female "conductor" on the Underground Railroad, a clandestine network that helped black slaves escape from the South to the North. A fugitive herself with a $40,000 bounty on her head, she delivered more than 300 slaves to freedom. In this biography, Clinton places Tubman's life within the larger context of slavery, women's history, and racial activism. She focuses not only on Tubman's private life, but on her lesser known public contributions as well. Working as a spy and nurse for the Union Army during the Civil War, she became a woman's suffragist after emancipation, rendering her far more complex than a modern "Moses."
Little, Brown. 272 pages. $27.95.

Hartford Courant 4 of 5 Stars
"Drawing on her background as an expert on women's movements and the antebellum South, Clinton has written a profoundly lucid account of Tubman's life, illuminating the inner workings of the Underground Railroad in the process." John Freeman

Houston Chronicle 4 of 5 Stars
" [Clinton] does an excellent job not only of cobbling together a revealing biography from sparse resources but also of rescuing Tubman from the woefully inaccurate, pop-culture, Washington-chopped-down-the-cherry-tree level of 'scholarship' found in elementary-school textbooks." Chris Patsilelis

San Francisco Chronicle 4 of 5 Stars
"The author does what she can to craft an intimate portrait of the woman, but largely focuses on her public life, and in doing so uses Tubman as a window to the rest of the era." Alex Dolan

USA Today 4 of 5 Stars
"Clinton's book is particularly good at conveying why the spirited Tubman hated the confinement of working in a house under the sharp eyes of a white mistress. ... [This] compelling biograph[y] bring[s] alive the passion of those tormented times." Deirdre Donahue

Newsday 3.5 of 5 Stars
"In Clinton's biography, we meet a far more intriguing Tubman than the benign 'mammy' caricature many of us grew up with. ... Clinton's well-researched book reveals Tubman to be even more remarkable than her legend." Liza Featherstone

Critical Summary

At long last Harriet Tubman, the subject of school myth and lore, has a full-fledged biography. Critics agree that Clinton does a remarkable job researching the life of a woman who left few traces; not only was she born into slavery, but she was also illiterate, and the Underground Railroad left no written records. Despite these obstacles, Clinton delves into university archives to paint a detailed portrait of Tubman's life, from her marriage, militant politics, and role in the Underground Railroad to her activism in the northern free black community of Philadelphia. Her significant contribution lies in placing Tubman's life smartly within 19th-century Southern history. In short, this graceful biography elevates Tubman from a minor cultural icon to a significant figure in American history.