When most people think of Harriet Tubman, the first thing that comes to mind is how she helped hundreds of black people escape slavery through the Underground Railroad. Other aspects of her life, such as how she led a raid near the Combahee River that freed 700 enslaved people or how she was a founder of the National Association of Colored Women’s Clubs, or active in the suffrage movement have been obscured by history. The release of the movie, Harriet, on Nov. 1 creates new opportunities to learn about her life and leadership.
As a black woman who has spent the last three years developing the leadership of black domestic workers—nannies, house cleaners, and home care workers—Harriet’s life is full of lessons for us all. In the domestic worker movement, we often find ourselves telling the stories of unsung heroes. Dorothy Bolden organized thousands of black domestic workers from 1968 through the 1980s and was appointed to several presidential commissions, but the narratives about Civil Rights figures, even in her hometown of Atlanta, often omit her contributions. When I learned that Harriet, too, had been a domestic worker, I wondered if this was a clue to understanding both the ways black women lead and the ways the stories of our leadership get told.