By Ashleigh Fields
AFRO Assistant Editor

Historians often reference Harriet Tubman as a social activist who made the brutal journey to the South repeatedly to free those who were enslaved; although among her many accomplishments lies a career as a spy and nurse for the Union during the Civil War. It’s a piece of her story which frequently goes untold. 

However, the U.S. Army Surgeon General, Army Medical Command and Chaplain Corps joined forces to raise awareness about Tubman’s contribution to the military on Aug. 23 at a commemorative ceremony. 

“She’s been recognized by different parts of the military but today she was not only recognized by the Army, but as a medic by the former U.S. Army Surgeon General and a faith worker through the Army Chaplain Corps, so those three coming together recognizing the different parts she played in the army is fantastic,” said Ernestine Wyatt, Harriet Tubman’s great-great grand niece.

According to the U.S. Army, Tubman was the first woman to lead an armed expedition in 1863 when she freed more than 700 slaves at the Combahee Ferry Raid during the Civil War. She also gathered information behind enemy lines which earned Tubman an induction into the Military Intelligence Hall of Fame in 2021.

Harvard Divinity School graduate and Command Chaplain Karen Meeker worked over the past six months to plan this event to uplift Tubman’s legacy. The service included an inspirational speaker, prayers and a special performance from Howard University student, Jade Stewart, who self-choreographed a piece she performed as a tribute to Tubman during the ceremony.

“We are honoring Harriet Tubman who is a legend that paved the way for so many of us. I am able to do what I do today because of her,” said Stewart, who majors in dance.“I thought about Harriet Tubman’s story and I thought about what that meant to me. The first song I thought about was, ‘My Testimony’ by Marvin Sapp which says, ‘I made it through, despite the storm, the rain, heartache and pain. I truly felt like it captured her story.”

U.S. Army Surgeon General Raymond Scott Dingle shared a speech entitled, “An Invictus Spirit” where he passionately recalled pieces of William Ernest Henley’s famous poem aligning it with the morale and character of Tubman. He advised the audience to pull from her spirit as they tackle life’s obstacles.

“We’re both from the state of Maryland. She is a heroine and a superstar in the eyes of our nation when it comes to abolitionists, civil rights, suffrage and a person who stands up for the tenets of our constitution. She fought and she did it at a time when slavery was around,” said Dingle. 

“She overachieved in a time of extreme racism, slavery and sexism but yet she did not quit and did not allow these setbacks to conquer her. On her birthday we plan to host something again as we do a roll out not just to the state of Maryland but in Army medicine, our Chaplain Corps and the world.”

Other leaders in attendance bonded over the same sentiment, reveling in the fact that the historic figure is from their home state. 

“I am from the Eastern Shore of Maryland and when I drive by the mural of her there, I think about her often and what she had to go through in her struggle,” said Janeen L. Birckhead, adjutant general of Maryland. “As a general officer, I’ve got some stars but she had that North Star, that was her guiding light. So when we refer to her as a general, we know she truly was a general leading people.”