By George Kevin Jordan, AFRO Staff Writer
A newly discovered treasure has found a permanent resting place this week at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC). The Smithsonian announced that an unknown portrait of underground railroad conductor and iconic Black historical figure Harriet Tubman, was found in the photography album of Emily Howland. It was on display in Heritage Hall last week, but is moving to the “Slavery and Freedom” exhibition on the C3 level in the History gallery of the museum.
A newly discovered photo of Harriet Tubman was recently added to the collection of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture. (Courtesy Photo)
Howland was a Quaker school teacher who taught at Camp Todd, the Freedman’s School in Arlington, Va. The album, according officials at the NMAAHC and the Library of Congress, who acquired the book, had 49 images which also included another photo of Tubman that was more common. Other images in the album included: Charles Dickens, activist and abolitionist Lydia Maria Child, organizer Samuel Ely, William Henry Channing, Col. C.W. Folsom, and the only known photos of John Willis Menard, the first African American man elected to the U.S. Congress.
Harriet Tubman was a change-maker and a trailblazer—a citizen who helped shape this country,” said Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden. “This amazing album gives us a new view of her life, along with dozens of other abolitionists, educators, veterans and leaders who took an active role in citizenship. At the Library of Congress, we’re focused on exploring America’s change-makers, and we’re thrilled to join the Smithsonian in sharing these portraits with the nation.”
Tubman’s contribution to the country and the African American culture is without question. According to her biography, the freedom fighter was known as the “Moses of her people,” and the conductor of the underground railroad. She served in several different capacities including spy, scout and nurse during the Civil War. According to her biography, she is widely regarded as the first African American woman to serve in the military. She is best known for helping slaves escape, going back and from the south to the north.
Tubman’s legacy and name shot back into the news in 2016 as she was chosen as the person who would be on the newly designed $20 bills. The U.S. Federal Reserve Board predicted that her likeness would have a circulation volume of 8.6 billion. The bill has yet to be replaced. However Tubman’s portrait has prominent display at the NMAAHC.
“This photo album allows us to see Harriet Tubman in a riveting, new way; other iconic portraits present her as either stern or frail,” said Lonnie G. Bunch III, the founding director of the museum. “This new photograph shows her relaxed and very stylish. Sitting with her arm casually draped across the back of a parlor chair, she’s wearing an elegant bodice and a full skirt with a fitted waist. Her posture and facial expression remind us that historical figures are far more complex than we realize. This adds significantly to what we know about this fierce abolitionist—it helps to humanize such an iconic figure.”
The portrait would join another iconic item associated with Tubman – a silk lace and linen shawl, given to the activist by Queen Victoria. For more information visit nmaach.si.edu or call the Smithsonian at 202-633-1000.