Tracing Harriet Tubman’s Steps

I traversed her journey to freedom in order to make sense of both the past and present

Jehan L. Roberson
ZORA

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Photos courtesy of the author.

InIn the summer of 2017 I found myself in the Bucktown Village Store in Maryland, the same store where Harriet Tubman almost died. The history goes that when asked to help restrain an enslaved man resisting his overseer, Tubman refused. The overseer then threw a two-pound metal weight at the man, but struck Tubman instead. The force of that blow cracked her skull, placing her in a feverish coma for weeks. Both her mother and master were unsure if she’d live.

Yet according to Tubman, that injury gifted her with powerful visions that helped her on her numerous journeys along the Underground Railroad. Historians now conclude those visions were likely the result of narcolepsy and seizures, common outcomes of traumatic brain injury. But Tubman knew these fits as the prophecies and guiding forces she needed to deliver herself and others into freedom.

This is only one of many stories from Harriet Tubman’s life that vaulted her beyond the legendary status she so rightly deserves and into the stratosphere of myth and folklore. She has become one of the tallest figures in this country’s self-aggrandizing narrative, so much so that her positioning has nearly dulled the edges of what she confronted and the scars…

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Jehan L. Roberson
ZORA
Writer for

Jehan Roberson is a writer, educator, and artist. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Apogee, VICE, Public Books, and Women & Performance, among others.