Updated: Oct 14, 2022
An upcoming virtual panel will dig deeper into the historical icon's life, shedding light on her disability.
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Harriet Tubman is well-known for her roles as a conductor on the Underground Railroad and a spy during the Civil War. However, one major element of her identity is rarely acknowledged: her disability. It's a result of a traumatic brain injury that she experienced when an overseer threw a weight at another enslaved person and hit Tubman, causing a lifetime of seizures, headaches, and some sources say narcolepsy.
An upcoming virtual class at 540WMain will dive deeper into this incident, how it affected Tubman and how disabilities are often erased throughout history. Organizers say they want everyone to leave with a better understanding of this iconic hero and how to increase disability visibility today as well.
"After Harriet Tubman's accident, her mother nursed her back to health. The incident likely resulted in her temporal lobe epilepsy. Harriet had hallucinations as a result of her condition, which she viewed as a sign from God," said Professor Janell Hobson of the SUNY Albany. "She once had a dream, an out-of-body experience where she was flying over the landscape. This vision enabled her to map out how she needed to escape slavery. Her disability informed her visions and she turned that around."
Tubman did not perceive her disability as an inability. Instead, she used it to fight for her freedom and the liberty of others. Tubman also led a military raid that freed over 750 slaves during the Civil War, so not only is Tubman highly regarded as an anti-slave activist and fighter, but also as a representative of women who use their skills to transform the world.
**includes reporting by Nyasia Almestica.