Smithsonian to Display Newly Found Harriet Tubman Photo

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March 6, 2018

A rare photo of Harriet Tubman, the most famous conductor on the Underground Railroad, has found a public home in the nation's capitol.

The National Museum of African American History and Culture, part of the Smithsonian, will include the photo in a special exhibit later this year.

Harriet Tubman

The photo shows Tubman in her 40s and was discovered in an album once owned by Emily Howland, who lived in Sherwood, N.Y., near Tubman's home in Auburn. The photo is distinctive, historians say, because few photos of the famed abolitionist remain and the ones that do show her in her elder years. As well, the photo shows her looking reserved and relaxed, in stark opposition to the image that many people have of her based on her accomplishments.

The photo was in an album containing 43 other photographs, of abolitionists and politicians. Also among those appearing in the album is John Willis Menard, the first African-American elected to Congress. (Menard won a special election in 1868 and was the first African-American to address the U.S. House of Representatives but was ultimately denied his seat by a House committee.)

The museum and the Library of Congress bought the photo album for $161,000 at an auction in 2017.

Tubman was herself enslaved and escaped. She quietly moved many of her family members to Canada, then became a "conductor" on the Underground Railroad, returning time and again to Maryland to help other slaves escape. She is believed to have helped more than 300 people to freedom. During the Civil War, she was also a nurse and eve a spy.

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