Video – Harriet Tubman

In honour of the 100th anniversary of her death, this video celebrates the contributions of Harriet Tubman, who risked her own life to help enslaved people escape to freedom though the Underground Railroad in the 19th century.


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Transcript of Video – Harriet Tubman

Video length: 4:27 minutes

[The Canadian Heritage logo appears.]

[The video begins with the main title appearing on screen: “Harriet Tubman”. The subtitle text appears below: “Humanitarian. Leader. Hero.” In the background, there is an antique map of Canada. The titles fly off the screen, and the map fades to black.]

[A woman’s voice begins to hum a song in the background.]

Narrator: The Underground Railroad was a secret network of routes and safe houses that helped people escape slavery to settle in Canada, as well as in some free Northern states.

[A collage of images fades in and out on the screen. The photos show an old wooden hut and a dirt road. A map shows part of the United States.]

Narrator: Some believe that secret messages in the form of quilt patterns helped enslaved African men and women escape the bonds of captivity in the Southern states.

[Quilt patterns fade in over top of the map of the United States. The images then fade to black.]

Narrator: Likewise, it is believed that singing gospel songs was a means to communicate among slaves who travelled the Underground Railroad. The lyrics provided verbal, coded communication that uncovered hidden messages and warnings about their travels.

[A drawing that shows people working in the fields fades into another antique map. Lyrics to the song “Wade in the water” , which is being sung, appear on screen above the map. The map fades into a scenic view of a lake or river at dusk.]

Narrator: The bold, selfless acts of one determined individual contributed to the freedom of many: Harriet Tubman. “The Black Moses”, as she was often called, is well known for leading many enslaved people to freedom in Canada by following the North Star.

[A black and white photo of Harriet Tubman slowly appears on screen. It fades into footage that shows the North Star shining brightly in the night sky.]

Narrator: She made countless journeys and never once lost a passenger. Tubman, a runaway slave from Maryland, was determined to abolish the misery and suffering of her people.

[A drawing of a town surrounded by fields fades into another black and white photo of Harriet Tubman.]

[A woman, Rosemary Sadlier, appears in the middle of the screen. She is standing in an old building, with a fireplace in the background.]

Rosemary Sadlier: Before achieving fame as a conductor on the Underground Railroad, Tubman was an enslaved African woman.

[On the left side of the screen, a black and white photo of Harriet Tubman appears. Underneath the photo, the text reads: “Rosemary Sadlier, Order of Ontario, President Ontario Black History Society and Author”.]

Rosemary Sadlier: She felt like she almost was actually free as she toiled with little supervision while felling trees and cutting up lumber in Maryland.

[The image of Harriet Tubman disappears from the screen, but Ms. Sadlier remains on the screen.]

Rosemary Sadlier: Once, while in the fields, she saw someone trying to escape and got involved. She was injured and, in turn, became more steadfast in her wish to be free.

[On the right side of the screen an image appears of enslaved people working in a field. After a few seconds, the photo disappears, leaving Ms. Sadlier alone on screen.]

Rosemary Sadlier: Tubman was the youngest of her family and worked with them in the fields. When she married and discovered her husband was not willing to head north with her, she set out alone.

[A map of the United States appears on screen and the camera moves north on the map, as red X’s mark the path that Harriet Tubman took as she travelled.]

Narrator: She then ventured to Philadelphia where she associated with abolitionists and learned about the connections of the Underground Railroad.

[The map fades to black.]

Narrator: When the far-reaching United States Fugitive Law was passed in 1850, Harriet Tubman guided fugitive enslaved African men and women into Canada. Angry slave owners posted rewards for her capture, but she continued her work despite great personal risk. Tough and courageous, in spite of her petite frame; she always carried a weapon intimidating those who supported slavery, and discouraging enslaved people from backing out of the strenuous journey. She threatened anyone who considered turning back, knowing the danger of those involved revealing the routes and safe house locations.

[A collage of images appears on screen, which includes: the text of the “Fugitive Slave Bill”, a map that moves from the northern United States to southern Ontario in Canada, an antique reward poster that reads “$150 Reward”, a drawing of Harriet Tubman with a gun, and an image of a dirt road winding through a forest.]

[Ms. Sadlier appears on screen again.]

Rosemary Sadlier: As the conductor, Tubman had the problem of keeping people motivated and together as they travelled by night and hid by day.

[A drawing of Harriet Tubman appears on the right side of the screen beside Ms. Sadlier.]

Rosemary Sadlier: Because Tubman was so successful at organizing these group escapes, slave owners offered high rewards for her capture. She is thought to have led as many as 19 rescue missions.

[The photo disappears, and Ms. Sadlier is alone on the screen.]

Rosemary Sadlier: While the possibility of torture or death or being resold into the deep south always existed, it was the loss of family members that Tubman feared most. She made a point of rescuing all of her family, settling them in both Ontario and later New York State. She gave her life to making people free.

[A black and white photo of Harriet Tubman appears on screen, replacing Ms. Sadlier.]

Narrator: St. Catharines, Ontario, was one of the towns in which Harriet passed through on her journeys. The town offered employment opportunities to the escaped enslaved people. Many of the former fugitives settled there, including her own parents, brothers, sisters and their families.

[The photo of Harriet Tubman fades to a black and white photo that shows an aerial view of St. Catharines. This photo fades into a map of the region west of Lake Ontario, which then zooms in on St. Catharines. The map then fades into a photo of black men, women and children.]

Narrator: Harriet Tubman lived in St. Catharines from 1851 to 1857. Harriet’s role in the Underground Railroad movement was one of the many inspiring accomplishments of her life. She was an activist in the abolitionist movement, worked as a nurse in the Civil War, and served as a spy for the Union Forces in South Carolina.

[A black and white photo of Harriet Tubman appears on screen again. After a few seconds, the photo fades to black.]

[Ms. Sadlier appears on screen again.]

Rosemary Sadlier: The need for the Underground Railroad ended after the American Civil War. Tubman had been actively involved with the northern forces as a nurse, spy and cook. She supported suffrage and founded a home for the homeless before she passed away in 1913 at the age of 93.

[The image of Ms. Sadlier fades to black. An antique map of Canada moves across the screen.]

[The following text credits appear on screen:

  • Quilt image: Troy University
  • Harriet Tubman photos:
    • Charles B. Blockson Afro-American Collection
    • Temple University Libraries
  • Wade in the Water: Roxanne Goodman and John Dapaah]

[The website address appears on screen.]

[The Canada wordmark appears, which has a waving Canadian flag above the last “a” in the word “Canada”.]

[The video fades to black.]

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