The highly anticipated Harriet Tubman biopic Harriet hits theaters Friday, staring Tony Award-winning actress Cynthia Erivo (The Color Purple) and East Oak Lane’s own original Hamilton cast member, Leslie Odom Jr.
Tubman herself lived briefly in Philly after her escape from a Maryland plantation in 1849. She would go on to work closely with William Still and other prominent local abolitionists to guide more than 300 freedom seekers through the region during her 19 trips on the Underground Railroad. She was known to attend Philadelphia’s Mother Bethel AME on occasion.
Here are seven ways to find out more about Tubman’s life and pay tribute to her legacy, including a hike at Bartram’s Garden this weekend and other events this month.
Take a hike in Tubman’s honor
This Sunday, you can walk a mile and a half of Bartram’s Garden’s scenic trails along the Schuylkill River (or just a half mile — it’s your choice) on a self-guided hike that asks you to consider details from Tubman’s life and think more deeply about enslaved people in America.
You’ll be asked, for example, to reflect on the dangers of escaping slavery. "When we get to the riverfront, we might talk about what water routes escaping people would’ve used,” said Kalela Williams, one of the event’s organizers.
Hikers who register online will be emailed background material and discussion questions to think about beforehand, and Bartram’s Garden will have some printed copies on hand, too. Organizers hope to see groups of six to 10 people set off together.
Bartram’s Garden, a National Historic Landmark with 45 acres of gardens and woodlands in Southwest Philly, is partnering with Black Media Maven to put on the Tubman-themed hikes.
2 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. Sunday, at Bartram’s Garden, 5400 Lindbergh Blvd., Free admission, registration requested, (215) 729-5281, bartramsgarden.org
Meet the author of the new Tubman biography ‘She Came to Slay’
On Tuesday, Rutgers professor Erica A. Dunbar will be at the Free Library to talk about her new biography, She Came to Slay: The Life and Times of Harriet Tubman (Simon & Schuster, $23.99) in a conversation with Philly-based author and activist Lorene Cary.
Dunbar describes her new book — it’s brand new, being released on Tuesday — as “an accessible, modern take” on Tubman. “[I want us] to think about her as someone other than the elderly woman with a head covering on the Underground Railroad."
Tubman lived into her 90s, and her role as a “conductor” on the Underground Railroad lasted only a decade. “So we’ll be talking about Tubman as a child, as a young person … as a woman who fell in love and married,” Dunbar says.
7:30 p.m. Tues Free Library of Philadelphia, 1901 Vine St., free, 215-567-4341, libwww.freelibrary.org
Attend a special screening of 'Harriet’
On Nov. 8, the American Women’s Heritage Society is hosting a screening of the new biopic at the Movie Tavern in Flourtown as a benefit for Fairmount Park’s Belmont Mansion and Underground Railroad Museum.
For $35, visitors will see the film, receive admission to the museum for a future date, and meet historic-house docents who are well versed in Harriet Tubman and her times. Admission includes a $5 food or drink voucher and gift bag.
Hear Charles L. Blockson talk about Harriet Tubman and the Underground Railroad in Philly
Charles L. Blockson has written four books on the Underground Railroad, and his personal connection to Harriet Tubman runs particularly deep. Blockson inherited 39 of her personal items from her great-niece Merlie Wilkens — including a shawl and a hymnal — and in 2010 he donated them to the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington.
Blockson told the Smithsonian at the time that his research shows him to be the descendant of Jacob Blockson, who escaped slavery on Maryland’s Eastern Shore with Tubman and settled in Canada.
Beyond that, Blockson is a prominent historian and important collector of African American artifacts.
His private collection forms the core of the Charles L. Blockson Afro-American Collection at Temple University, and he’ll tell stories at the archive’s office on Nov. 18, about Philadelphia abolitionists and their ties to Tubman.
2 p.m. Nov., 18, 1330 Polett Walk on the Temple campus, free, 215-204-6632, eventbrite.com
Visit a Harriet Tubman $20 bill stamping station
A redesigned $20 bill featuring Tubman’s face in place of President Andrew Jackson’s was supposed to be released in 2020 to coincide with the 100th anniversary of the passage of the 19th Amendment granting women the right to vote. But Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin announced this spring that it would not be going into circulation until 2028.
A rubber stamp allowing Tubman enthusiasts to stamp her face atop Jackson’s on existing $20 bills soon became a hit on Etsy, and for people without their own, there are now 14 public stamping stations around the country — including Philadelphia’s Brickbat Books.
Stamp at your own risk: A federal anticounterfeiting law prohibits doctoring U.S. money “with intent to render such item(s) unfit to be reissued.” The stamp’s makers maintain that they are in compliance since the Tubman-stamped bills are still fit for circulation. The website tubmanstamp.com has more information.
Brickbat Books, at 709 S. 4th St., is open 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tues.-Sat. and noon-5 p.m. Sunday, 215-592-1207, brickbatbooks.blogspot.com
Visit local stops on the Underground Railroad
The Johnson House, located in Germantown, was a hotbed of the 19th-century abolition movement and served as a stop on the Underground Railroad. The Kennett Underground Railroad Center in Kennett Square is an important local cluster of Underground Railroad locations. And there are more. The Philadelphia tourism website visitphilly.com has a guide to the Underground Railroad in Philadelphia with a long list of places to visit connected with Tubman and her times.
For extra credit, there’s the Historical Society of Pennsylvania and the Library Company of Philadelphia, both in Center City, and both with important papers and artifacts linked to the Underground Railroad.
Johnson House, 6306 Germantown Ave., 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Thurs. and Fri., 1 p.m.-4 p.m. Sat. $4-$10, 215-438-1768, johnsonhouse.org. Kennett Underground Railroad Center, call 484-544-5070 or email firstname.lastname@example.org for a self-guided driving tour.
Imagine Tubman as a girl — and a superhero — in two fiction titles with Philly ties
Minty: A Story of Young Harriet Tubman by Philly children’s illustrator Jerry Pinkney is a fictional depiction of a young Tubman, who’s shown to be tenacious and high-spirited. Pinkney is a Caldecott Medal winner, and this book is one of his classics, first published in 1996.
In Ta-Nehisi Coates’ new novel, The Water Dancer, Tubman appears in a fantastical way — as a superhero. After an arduous journey on the Underground Railroad, the book’s protagonist, Hiram Walker, comes to (spoiler alert) Philadelphia. Oprah Winfrey will interview Coates about The Water Dancer as the first installment of her Apple TV+ series Oprah’s Book Club, streaming on Apple TV+ on Friday.
Minty: A Story of Young Harriet Tubman is published by Dial Books, The Water Dancer by Random House.